I am not sure what is was about middle class home cooking in the 1980s, but there seemed to be some sort of rule (in our house anyway): When in Doubt, Cream of Mushroom in a can. To be fair, my parents worked and were busy folks, not to mention that Swampscott, Massachusetts was not exactly brimming with fresh, local or exotic ingredients at that time. Most families, mine included, shopped at the Star Market where the produce was shoved in a back corner right next to the leftover boxes of Matza and the discount canned goods. It is no wonder really that my mother surveyed the options available and proceeded to concoct simple and filling weeknight dinners such as Tuna Noodle Casserole and something she called Chicken Edna Kelly– a dish I have since decided must have been a “quick” version of Chicken Divan (the only real similarity between the two in actuality, was the chicken and the broccoli). My point here is not to criticize her– she was working with what she had, both in terms of recipes and ingredients. Thankfully however, things have changed vastly since the mid-80s both in Swampscott and elsewhere. Even in places where the food revolution has not quite reached the local markets, there is the internet — an incredible resource for ordering difficult-to-find products along with explanations of how to cook with them. These changes are inspiring many of us to think beyond Tuna Noodle Casserole, even when we are short on time.
This recipe is for Shakshuka, which is a classic Israeli standby for meals that need to happen in a hurry and with only one pan. It can be made with ingredients you are likely to have in your pantry/fridge, plus a couple of items you pick up on your way home. There are many ways to make Shakshuka and once you understand the basic concept you can reinvent this recipe to suit your taste. One thing that is standard about it however, is the soft cooked eggs, without them you basically just have a sauce of sorts. If you do not like soft-cooked eggs I recommend, hard boiling a few separately, slicing them up and spreading them over the top of the sauce, then serving the whole thing as you would otherwise: straight from the pan with some hearty bread to soak it all up.
Shakshuka (serves 4) Adapted from The Book of New Israeli Food, by Janna Gur
4 Tbs oil
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
2-4 cloves garlic coarsely chopped
1-2 serrano/jalepeno peppers, minced
1 large red or green bell pepper, thinly sliced
generous sprinkling of paprika and cumin
2- 15 oz can crushed tomatoes
salt and pepper
heat the oil in a large deep skillet over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Lightly fry without allowing garlic to brown too much. Add hot peppers and bell pepper and saute until somewhat softened then add spices and tomatoes and simmer for a few minutes, covered. Taste the sauce and adjust seasonings if needed, add salt and pepper.
Break the eggs one at a time into a cup or bowl and gently slide each egg onto the sauce. Turn the heat to low and let eggs set for 5-7 minutes with the pan partially covered. For a more firmly set egg, cover the pan completely. Serve with hearty bread.