One of my top five most-dreaded scenarios is coming home from a trip to find my kitchen in an Old Mother Hubbard-like state. I’m usually getting back fairly late at night, jet-lagged and exhausted, on top of the requisite post-vacation blues. And because my stomach often doesn’t know what time zone I’m in, I’m always feeling a bit peckish.
Most of the time, I’ll have a bit of dry pasta in the pantry, a can or two of tomatoes hiding nearby, some frozen veg on hand, and maybe a bottle of capers in the fridge—among the essentials I keep stocked before traveling. With those ingredients, I can pretty easily pull together a functional meal on the fly.
But when I recently returned from a few days in London, the straits were slightly more dire. Because of a busy week before my trip, I used up all my pasta and frozen spinach. And if I’m honest, my zombified travel-self was yearning for a very specific, likely very time-consuming dish that I couldn’t get off my mind—the smoky, creamy shakshuka I’d eaten over the weekend at Ottolenghi, the chef's namesake restaurant and deli in the Spitalfields neighborhood.
There were roasted tomatoes (which, we learned, are slowly charred on a grill before becoming a sauce), simmered to perfection! There were lovingly, patiently, oven-cooked eggs, nestled in that rich, saucy bed! There was incredible housemade labneh, so thick and rich it could’ve been mistaken for crème fraîche! And it was all served alongside the crustiest, somehow also squidgiest, slices of grilled focaccia. I needed to recreate it, or at least something like it. Yet, it was 9:30 pm and I definitely didn’t have a grill to speak of, or a freshly baked loaf of bread. I also felt a deep sleep approaching, in, like, T-25.
So I grabbed my trusty guide to short-on-time, big-on-flavor meals, Cook in the Blank, which I knew had a recipe for pared down, uber-quick baked eggs. Because of its fill-in-the-blank style, the recipe lent itself well for me to use up what I had on hand. To try and approximate Ottolenghi's spicy, flavor-packed egg dish, I hunted around my kitchen for the right ingredients. I first spotted the ever-present canned tomatoes. I also managed to scrounge up half a baguette stashed away in the freezer, a couple of eggs left in the carton, and a small container of Greek yogurt I forgot to take to work before I traveled. Ground cumin could serve as a nutty, earthy spice that mimicked the grilled flavor of the original dish. And I somehow found a nub of pecorino, because, always. These would totally work.
I started by preheating the oven to 375°F. While it was heating, I took out the baguette to defrost it a bit, and began making a really easy tomato sauce. I heated a tablespoon of olive oil in a small saucepan until shimmery, tipped in a 14-ounce can of undrained, chopped tomatoes (enough for a serving of two), and added a few hefty pinches of salt and red pepper flakes. I also grabbed several leaves from my somehow-not-dead windowsill basil plant, roughly chopped them, and tossed them in. I cooked down the sauce for just 10 to 12 minutes, until the liquid reduced by about half, breaking down the tomatoes a bit with the back of a wooden spoon to help thicken things up.
As the tomato sauce was cooking down, I took out a baking-safe skillet, lightly greased it with some olive oil, and sliced up two or three small pieces of (admittedly, still slightly frozen) baguette to layer in the pan. After the sauce finished cooking, into the pan it went, fully covering the bread with enough depth so I could create little divots for my pair of eggs. I carefully cracked those into the pockets and dolloped on a few heaping tablespoons of Greek yogurt mixed together with a pinch or two of ground cumin, taking care not to disturb the eggs in their little tomato-ey homes. Next came a drizzle of peppery olive oil on top, and numerous ribbons of shaved pecorino.
I stuck this in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes until the egg whites looked uniformly opaque but the yolks were still a bit jiggly. Post-oven, I dotted on some more Greek yogurt, made it rain with more ribbons of basil over the top, drizzled a bit more with the olive oil, and dug in. Yes, right from the pan.
Full of speedy, Ottolenghi-inspired shakshuka, I was asleep by 10:30 p.m.—but then got up at 3 in the morning, wide awake and hungry for some signature meringues.
How do you like to spice up your baked eggs? Grab a copy of Cook in the Blank, take the recipe for a spin, and let us know in the comments!