Dish of the Week: Eggs In Purgatory

From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. Find other dishes of the week here.

This week, we’re sharing an easy dish that works for any meal, from breakfast to a late night snack: eggs in purgatory.

For this dish, called uova in purgatorio in Italian, eggs poached in a fiery tomato sauce. When chili peppers and warm spices like cumin are added, it transforms into the popular Levantine and North African dish shakshouka or shakshuka, meaning “mixture.” It's also not far off from traditional huevos rancheros.

But today, we’re sticking with the Italian version. Though its origins are unknown, the dish’s moniker clearly references purgatory – which, in Roman Catholic doctrine, is a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who "undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” With that in mind, the most common theories suggest the floating eggs represent the souls of the sinners, and the tomato sauce the flames surrounding them.

That works for us, because whatever the true meaning is, we know one thing: this classic dish is rich, tangy and easy to make.

Variants includes poaching the eggs in a briny puttanesca sauce, adding potatoes and artichokes, or the aforementioned spiced shakshouka, for starters. Whichever way you go, serve it with crusty bread or garlic-rubbed toast to sop up all the yolk and sauce.

This recipe, slightly adapted from Nigella Lawson, is made simply with crushed tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, chili flakes and a splash of chili oil. Add chopped basil or parsley for a hint of freshness.

Eggs in Purgatory 

Ingredients serves 2
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 or 2 cloves garlic (peeled)
1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
A 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon sea salt flakes (or to taste)
4 large eggs 
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan (or more as needed)
Add before serving: a splash of chili oil, chopped fresh basil or parsley, crusty bread or garlic-rubbed toast


Pour the olive oil into a frying pan, then grate in (or mince and add) the garlic, scatter in the chili flakes and put the pan over a medium heat. Stir for one minute.

Pour in the tomatoes, stir in the salt and let it come to a bubble. It has to be hot enough to poach an egg in.

Crack in the eggs, sprinkle the Parmesan over each, leaving some of the yellow yolk still exposed. Partially cover with a lid. Let bubble for five minutes, by which time the white should be set and the yolk still runny, but keep an eye on it.

Remove from the heat and serve—if so wished—sprinkled with chopped herbs, a little more Parmesan, some chili oil and some bread for dunking.