Stanley Tucci in A Taste of Home
Igrew up in Katonah, New York, but my family are of Calabrian heritage, so our homecooked food always had a southern Italian character. Really, it’s the stupidly simply stuff that’s most evocative, like steak oreganata, pounded and sauteed with a little olive oil, butter, garlic, oregano; or pasta with garlic; or Sunday ragu and meatballs. My mom would get up early to start the ragu, slow cooking the sauce with pork or beef ribs, then we’d go to church – before we realised that church is pointless – and then come home to eat it, strewn over pasta, followed by the meatballs (not to eat them in that order would be crass).
But there’s this one dish that stands out above the others, one that my dad would make: uovo fra’diavolo. It’s eggs poached in a tomato sauce, much like a marinara, and sweetened with onion. He’d make it on a Friday: the night that he would cook. (The rest of the time, he was the sous chef to my mom, who did the brunt
of the cooking.) We’d gather around this little 1940s table – I now have a larger version – with a tulip base and a formica top, and eat our Friday dinner, sitting on little stools.
My parents were teachers so, on Fridays, everyone was done with school and there were no thoughts of homework. There was a lightness to Friday nights. We’d eat these great, great simple meals. Sometimes pizza! It was the only time we were allowed soda, and the only time Dad would have beer instead of wine.
My dad really loves eggs, as do I. The smell of this dish, with the sweetness of the onions and tomatoes, was unbelievable. It looked amazing too: the red of the tomatoes, which become orangey with the oil, and the eggs, becoming milky and unctuous as they turn clear to white, their yolks radiant. You had to put a lid on the pan so that they steamed, to get that perfect opaqueness. The pan he used stays in my memory, too – an old one with a good copper bottom made by Revere Ware, which was a popular pot and pan company in the 60s and 70s. Lid removed, we’d eat the eggs straight away with toasted Italian bread to mop up all the sauce.
God, I love it. I’m going down to Florida to visit my parents in the next couple of months and I’ll ask my dad to make it for me then. I also made it for Alan Rickman once. He loved it. Alan loved to eat ...
Eggs in tomato sauce (uovo fra’diavolo)
As a kid I looked forward to this Friday night meal. Not only was it unusually beautiful but its sweet flavour, thanks to the onions, would linger long after the last bite.
60ml olive oil 1 small onion, thinly sliced 225g tinned whole plum tomatoes 4 large eggs Salt and black pepper
1 Warm the olive oil in a medium-size nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft – about 3 minutes.
2 Stir in the tomatoes, crushing them with your hand or the back of a slotted spoon as you add them to the pan. Cook until the tomatoes have sweetened – about 30 minutes – stirring occasionally.
3 Gently break the eggs into the pan, and cover. Cook until the whites are opaque and the yolks are moderately firm: about 5 minutes. Serve immediately, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste.