Sunday, April 27, 2014

Uova al Forno aka Baked Eggs

On Saturday the French Market (aka Farmer's Market) opened for the season. Having lived away for almost three years, I wasn't quite sure if the market would be as good as, better than, or not as good as the one I remembered. I was barely down one of the aisles when my heart started to race and I became almost giddy as it became clear this market was definitely better than the one I remembered. How is it that shopping in a French market can create a kind of euphoria normally not experienced at the grocery store? I can answer that in two words: fresh eggs. Discovering I could again buy fresh eggs from now until at least October was one of those too good to be true pinch myself moments.

Adding to joy of the week was yet another discovery. That being the newly published cookbook Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food written by Jody Williams. The recipes, narratives and photographs (oh, the photographs) were all so compelling, I want to make everything in this cookbook. And I mean everything. Finding fresh eggs at the French Market made the 'which recipe to make first decision' so much easier. And I could hardly wait to make Uova al Forna (aka Baked Eggs), eggs baked in a delicious sauce made of tomatoes, onions, garlic, red chili flakes and smoked bacon, then topped with freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

Uova al Forno is not just a breakfast or brunch dish. It would be equally delicious for dinner, maybe like a Sunday night dinner. Served with a crusty french baguette and some wine, it would be the perfect way to end the weekend. Although I baked this dish in small ramekins, it can also be baked in a casserole dish or the frying pan used to cook the bacon and onion. For large gatherings I would definitely serve the Uova al Forno in a casserole dish.

You will need at least four and up to eight large eggs (no they don't have to be fresh eggs, but if you can get them....). There is something about having a wedge of Pecorino Romano cheese for grating to add a little drama to the presentation. Any smoked bacon will work, however, you will need about an inch thick slice of bacon so it can be cut into half inch lardons. Most grocery stores these days sell 'unsliced' bacon to be cut in whatever thickness you need. It just so happened that the one inch thick slice of the bacon I bought was a perfect half-pound, the amount needed for this dish.

The base of the sauce begins with a 28 ounce can of whole San Marzano tomatoes crushed by hand. I was tempted to buy the already crushed can of tomatoes, but I am glad I didn't. Not just because I would have missed out on the hand crushing experience, but because the lack of uniformity of the size of hand crushed tomato pieces adds perfect texture to this dish. Minced garlic and a pinch of Aleppo pepper are sautéed for about 30 seconds in extra-virgin olive oil in a medium sized sauce pan. The hand crushed tomatoes are poured in and the mixture is brought to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for approximately 30 minutes or until slightly thickened.

When the recipe called for bacon to be cut into lardons, I honestly have to say that was a concept not in my everyday vocabulary. While it is just another word for thick strips or cubes, the advantage of cutting the bacon into lardons is the flavor foundation it creates. When placed into a hot frying pan the thick bacon strips or lardons and cooked for 2 to 3 minutes, which is enough time for its fat to be rendered. The rendered fat is used to sauté and add more flavor to the thickly sliced onions.

Stirring frequently, the bacon and onions are cooked over medium heat for approximately 20 minutes or until the onions are softened and lightly browned and the bacon pieces become slightly crisp. 

The slightly thickened tomato and garlic mixture is added to the pan with the cooked bacon and onion. Stir to combine making sure you scrape up the bits of brownness (this is where lots of flavor resides) on the bottom of the pan. If using ramekins, evenly divide the mixture so that the onions and bacon are evenly distributed. After making a well or indentation into each ramekin crack in a large egg.

In a preheated 400 degree oven, the ramekins are baked for 12 to 20 minutes. The recipe in Buvette indicated that the baking time should be approximately12 minutes, however, my eggs were not slightly set until they were baked for almost 20 minutes. This may have been because I baked them in the center versus the upper third of the oven. Next time I will bake them in the upper third of the oven and begin watching for doneness at 12 minutes. Lightly salt and pepper each ramekin before generously grating Pecorino Romano cheese over the top.

Definitely serve the Uova al Forno with thick cut slices of a toasted baguette or Italian country loaf. If you make this dish in a casserole dish or frying pan, be prepared for some at the table to jockey themselves so they are in as close proximity to the dish as possible. Why? Because mopping the toasted bread in the tomato/bacon/onion sauce only adds to the eating experience of this dish. It would be a sin to leave any of this incredibly flavored sauce uneaten.

Uova al Forno aka Baked Eggs (inspired by a recipe created by Jody Williams and shared in Buvette)

28 ounce can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes (with juice)
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch of Aleppo pepper
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1/2 pound smoked bacon (one inch thick), cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
1 large yellow onion, peeled and thickly sliced (about 1/3 inch thick)
4 to 8 large eggs
Pecorino Romano Cheese, grated
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a medium sized bowl, pour in tomatoes and juice. Break up tomatoes into small chunks using your hands.
3. In a medium sized sauce pan, heat olive oil. Add minced garlic and pinch of Aleppo pepper. Sauté for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and salt. Bring mixture to boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer for approximately 30 minutes or until slightly thickened.
4. Cook bacon in large frying pan over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes or until the fat has rendered (turn the bacon at least once).
5. Add onions, reduce heat to medium and cook until onions are softened and slightly browned. Bacon will be a tiny bit crisp. Stirring occasionally cooking time will be approximately 20 minutes.
6. Transfer tomato mixture into pan with bacon and onions, stirring to remove all bits on bottom of pan.
7. Baking options: Divide the tomato/bacon/onion mixture between four ramekins, place tomato/bacon/onion mixture in an ovenproof casserole dish or leave in frying pan. 
8. Make an indentation in the sauce cracking eggs directly into them. (Note: If using ramekins, use 1 or 2 eggs. If using a casserole dish or frying pan, use 8 eggs.)
9. Bake until eggs are just about set. (Note: Baking time could range from 12 to 20 minutes depending on baking dish and where rack is placed in the oven.)
10. Lightly salt and pepper. Generously grate Pecorino Romano cheese on top. Serve immediately.

The other day my niece favorited a posting on my Facebook page as well as one of my tweets. While she has done this before, there was something about the same day favoriting that made me think 'something is up'. My hunch was confirmed later in the evening when she texted the family group about getting tickets for an upcoming One Republic concert. Of course this text came less than eight hours before the window for buying the tickets opened (yes she is college freshman with a busy life, but she is also one clever enough to know the importance of timing as well as the impact flattery might have). After a series of texts going back and forth somehow I ended up being the one having to get online in the wee hours of the morning to purchase the tickets. Or rather I ended up being the one having to experience the pressure of actually getting the tickets before they were sold out. But such is life. And if the only thing I had to worry about was getting concert tickets, well that wouldn't be such a bad life.

Over the years I think we all develop a sixth sense about when someone is about to ask us for something or influence us in order they get what they want or need. Maybe its because we learn how to do this rather early. Haven't we all been a little extra good before a birthday or Christmas? Haven't we all been positively rewarded for this, if not consistently, then at least inconsistently? If it worked for most us as kids, we keep using this what I will call the 'flattery getting in your good graces' strategy as adults. Sometimes this strategy is very transparent and sometimes it is very subtle. I am pretty certain my niece thought she was being subtle. But regardless of whether she was being little more or less obvious, at the end of the day, her strategy still worked. It worked not because I am that gullible or such a pushover, it worked because of how much love there is between us. I only wish I had figured out a way first to get her to want to go to this concert with me. So for now I will just let her think that her strategy really worked.

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