When I need to feed myself but lack the time or flexibility, the first thing that comes to mind is an egg. Fried. Hard-boiled. Poached. Scrambled. It doesn't really matter. Whichever way is in sync with the timing and rhythm of the circumstances. Sometimes my husband offers to cook it for me. If he decides to fry the egg, I usually say, "Minimal oil, crispy edges and runny yolk, please." It sounds like a tall order, but he's perfected it with practice, and I make sure he knows it, every time, at the first sight of oozing golden liquid. "Look!" I exclaim with unrestrained exhilaration, like a child unearthing a secret treasure.
The way I like my fried egg for brunch or lunch is to have it sit atop a bed of mixed leaves on a slice of gluten-free toast smeared generously with a tomato-based sauce. This kind of an open-faced sandwich is a delightfully messy affair. The artful layering of ingredients meets its impending destruction with every bite taken, breaking free of the thoughtful structure by becoming individual components of gastronomic pleasure: in the mouth, the crunch of hardened toast and crispy leaves is blunted by the fat burst of raw yolk, which then escapes in a sticky trickle down the back of your hand, or neck if you're lucky. In this scene, I partake in a very personal experience of indulgence made possible by a perfectly cooked egg. Perfect in the way I desire it.
We are currently caught in the whirlwind of self-renovating a charming little old spot, and packing, moving and unpacking our belongings to settle into a new address. In the midst of it all, I am holding on tightly to one of the fridge mantras found in Alana Chernila's new cookbook The Homemade Kitchen that says "Feed Yourself". There's a recipe in the book that calls for A Perfect Fried Egg, so I flipped to the "Be A Beginner" (another worthy mantra) chapter to study How to Cook an Egg. For a fried egg, this is what I've learned: "Heat just enough oil over medium heat to cover the bottom of the pan. Crack an egg into the pan, and cover the pan, lower the heat to medium low, and let the egg sit undisturbed until the edges are crispy and a faint layer of white surrounds the circumference of the yolk, about 3 minutes." Fried eggs should be eaten right away, the book advises.
Reading this cookbook—and I do mean read because there are ample anecdotes to illustrate Alana's relationship with food, cooking and the recipes provided—has made me repeatedly feel like I just got off the phone with a dear friend who lives across the country, persuading me to try dandelion greens tossed in hot oil and topped with a fried egg. It's been raining a lot here and I wanted something warming, so I followed Alana's recipe to make Shakshuka, a simple but highly satisfying North African dish of eggs cooked in tomato sauce. I made enough for the two of us and we ate it immediately straight out of the pan, scooping the gloopy mixture with toast, but not before orchestrating the flow of golden yolk with a gentle poke to the eggs. Perfect in the way I desire it.
Shakshuka (Eggs in Tomato Sauce)
Adapted from The Homemade Kitchen: Recipes for Cooking with Pleasure by Alana Chernila. This egg and tomato dish of North African origin is a quick and easy way to get sustenance on the table, and should be served as soon as it's cooked. This recipe serves 2 to 3.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 cup sweet red pepper, diced
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
3 cups chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped + more for garnish
3 large eggs
Freshly ground black pepper
Crusty bread, for serving
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and red pepper, and cook, stirring often, until the onion turns translucent and the red pepper softens, about 10 minutes. Add the salt, garlic and tomato, and stir well to mix all the ingredients. Continue to cook until the mixture thickens, about 20 minutes.
Stir in the chopped parsley. Crack the eggs one at a time directly into the sauce, lower the heat to medium low and cover the pan. When the eggs have a faint layer of white over the yolks, remove from heat. Add a few grinds of black pepper and sprinkle with more chopped fresh parsley. Serve warm and enjoy with bread.