Eggs in Purgatory

This is my favorite name for a dish, ever.  It’s epic.  It’s literary.  It’s got a little sass.  Only problem is, I think it would be better named Eggs in Hell.  That seems more apt for a boiling death in a bubbling brew of tasty tomato sauce, doesn’t it?


But, alas, there are worse fates that could’ve befallen this poor egg.  Imagine being coerced into a gloppy, too-yellow hollandaise, only to be poured over some diner’s sub-par rendition of eggs benedict…quintessential, yet horribly overrated.  This dish has class, and it looks absolutely beautiful.  I love the bright white of the egg with its golden yolk just barely showing through.  I love the contrast of the charred red tomato sauce and the flecks of green parsley on top.   

My intention was to write about the history of this dish.  Where did it come from?  How in the world did it get its name?  Unfortunately, any information I found on the internet was hazy at best.  There were recipes a plenty, but histories none.  I can tell you that the dish derives from the Catholic tradition.  I can also tell you that the egg is supposed to represent the rising sun as Dante (or whoever) makes his way through purgatory. 

Perhaps, then, we should call this dish Eggs Rising From the Depths of Hell.  Although, the fact that they end up in my stomach seems to counteract the effect.

I could’ve sworn that I first spotted eggs in purgatory in Jamie Oliver’s Italy, a cookbook that captures the brilliant simplicity of traditional Italian cuisine.  The pictures are gorgeous too.  I flipped through its pages when I was home this weekend and could not find my precious eggs anywhere.  Perhaps it was Nigella?  It had to be.  I flipped through her cookbook, Feasts, and came up empty.  Where in the world did I learn about eggs in purgatory?!  I still don’t know, but I’m sure glad I’m in the know!


This is breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  This is quick, easy, and satisfying.  I love, love, love spreading these hellish eggs on a heavenly slice of homemade parmesan bread.  Crunchy, saucy, charred, rich yolk, and the grassy contrast of parsley.  Yes, yes, yes!  And of course, the name is freakin cool. 

Eggs in purgatory is endlessly versatile.  I’ve made it with cheese on top.  During lunch I serve it with an English muffin.  I can totally imagine spooning this over creamy polenta or grits.  Heck, it could be eaten right out of the ramiken with nothing but a spoon.  If there’s company, just make a big batch of tomato sauce, pour it in a dutch oven or cast iron skillet, and crack in as many eggs as needed. 

I do recommend using a homemade tomato sauce.  Of course this isn’t necessary, but there’s so much more character to a dish made entirely by one’s own hands.  It’s such a simple recipe anyway.  I’m not sure that opening a jar of tomato sauce, pouring it in a ramekin, cracking an egg on top, and putting it in the oven is even under the category of semi-homemade.  I know, I know, we don’t all have time to make everything from scratch…but let me intervene.  It takes me fifteen minutes to make sauce.  Fifteen minutes.  I’ll include the recipe.  Try it, and see how inexpensive and quick it really is.

What’s a side dish that goes well with eggs in purgatory?


Why, salad and a glass of wine, of course.  Pretty dang healthy, right?  Well…maybe not the wine.  But hey!  It’s good for the soul.

That’s all the convincing I need.  Make eggs in purgatory, and flaunt the name.  You’ll be the coolest cook around!

Eggs in Purgatory (for one)

1 egg

1/2 c. to 3/4 c. tomato sauce

salt and pepper

parsley to garnish


Preheat oven to 350 deg.  Measure tomato sauce according to the size of your ramiken (I used about a 1/2 c to 3/4 c).  Heat sauce in saucepan on stove.  Pour into ramiken when hot.  Crack the egg on top.  Season with salt and pepper.  Put ramiken into oven.  Check after 15 minutes.  When egg is white in color and yolk is to your desired doneness, take out of oven.  Garnish with parsely.  Serve hot with parmesan bread.


 Tomato Sauce (a method)

*This recipe is going to depend a lot on tasting as you go. Trust your sense of flavor and don’t be afraid of the ingredients. Tomato sauce is surprisingly forgiving.  Also, I should mention that this will make way more than you’ll need for a single-sized eggs in purgatory, unless you’re making enough for a crowd.  Freeze the rest if you won’t be using it right away.  Of course, you can always plan on having pasta the next day.   

1 15 oz. can plain tomato sauce

1 15 oz. can whole tomatos

olive oil

2-4 cloves garlic

1/4 a medium sized sweet onion (1/2 a small one)

palmful fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 tbls -1 tbls dried oregano

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper to taste

a spoonful of sugar (optional)

a splash of red wine

1 tbls butter


Pour a couple tbls. of olive oil into a medium sized pot.  Set on stove on medium heat.  Meanwhile, mince the onion and the garlic.  When oil is hot, add onions first.  Let cook until translucent and soft.  Add garlic and cook for about a minute.  Watch carefully that the garlic doesn’t burn.  Pour plain tomato sauce into pot.  Drain excess juice from whole tomatos.  Chop or break tomatos apart with your hands (I prefer hands…it has more character because the pieces are all different sizes).  Bring up to medium heat.

Turn heat down to a simmer.  Add parsley, oregano, bay leaf, and salt and pepper to taste.  If your sauce is too acidic, add a little sugar (up to a spoonful).  Pour in a splash of red wine.  Finish with a tbls. of butter to cut through the acidity.  Let simmer on the stove until ready to use.  The longer it is allowed to simmer, the deeper and more pronounced the flavor.  If you plan on using some of the sauce the next day, it’s going to taste really, really good.

Sauce can be used right away.  If freezing it for later use, allow sauce to cool completely.  Pour into a tupperware or ziplock container with a lid and store in freezer. 

Yup, it’s that easy.  Enjoy!


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