Eggs in Purgatory

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Not sure if you guys know this, but, the blood that courses through my veins is Italian. So, for the most part, it is difficult for me NOT to have a bit of Italian flair in most of the food that I cook.

Take this dish for example. Tomato + eggs + spices.

I’ve made it many times before and called it Shakshuka, which is the middle eastern version that generally calls for peppers, paprika and cumin to be added to the tomato sauce before poaching the eggs.  I’ve also made huevos rancheros, which is very similar but it is the Mexican version, where eggs are nestled in a bed of refried beans, sour cream and salsa and served atop a warm tortilla.  But my favorite, of course (because of the blood coursing through my veins) is Eggs in Purgatory…Italy’s version of eggs poached in tomato sauce.

This easy one-pot dish, is traditionally served on November 2nd, All Souls Day.  The story goes that the eggs represent the “souls” that are looking for purification or salvation and are in purgatory, which is represented by the tomato sauce, oftentimes made very spicy – and a fiery sauce may actually represent something besides purgatory;)!!

As a bit of an aside, All Souls Day in some Italian towns is a day for people to visit the graves of their loved ones whom have passed and it is a quite solemn day.  That’s probably why Halloween isn’t traditionally a holiday that was celebrated in Italy  (although, I think it’s becoming more and more popular there!).

My version of eggs in purgatory has always had lots of onions, a spoonful of pesto, a small amount of chopped capers for that saltiness (feel free to add anchovies – they will do the same), plus hot peppers in whatever form I can find them (red pepper flakes, chopped hot peppers under oil, spicy oil).  And, because this dish is so easily adaptable, I usually add whatever veggies I have on hand that I think would taste great.  Today’s version has zucchini…tomorrows might have spinach!!

eggs in purgatory

I make my own tomato passata (pureed tomatoes) every year so I am using that. However, feel free to use store bought tomato puree or even a large can of San Marzano whole tomatoes…I like this too because I love a chunky sauce!!

eggs in purgatory

And, for an added dose of protein, I added some beans to my dish.

There’s a funny story here too….

Pythagoras (you remember that guy you learned about in math class?!?) believed that fava beans could potentially contain the souls of the dead, since they were flesh-like. He also thought that their black-spotted flowers and hollow stems connected earth to the netherworld, which would possibly provide ladders for human souls. The beans’ association with reincarnation and the soul made eating fava beans pretty close to cannibalism back in the day.  So weird right?

Anyhow, I thought, with a story like that, how could I possibly not use fava beans in this dish on the Day of the Dead?

The only thing I will tell you is that the skin on these beans are a wee bit tough.  I don’t mind them (they get softer as they stew in the sauce) but if you think it might bother you, they are easy enough to peel.

Eggs in Purgatory Just Crumbs Blog by Suzie Durigon

If you have anyone in your family that might not like the tomato poached eggs (like some of my kids), just fry the eggs separately and lay them on top of the sauce – it defeats the whole plan of using one pot, but the eggs won’t pick up much of the tomato flavour for any tomato haters!  Also, the yolks should be runny if you would like to do “la scarpetta” – that’s Italian for scooping up the sauce with bread.

And one final note…

If you’ve eaten all of the eggs and have sauce left over, add some stock and puree the whole thing…it will seriously make the best soup ever!!

Eggs in Purgatory Just Crumbs Blog by Suzie Durigon

Eggs in Purgatory

Also known as Uova in Purgatorio in Italian, this dish has it's roots in all things spicy!!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp capers, chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 can san marzano tomatoes, crushed (you can also use tomato passata)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup parsley
  • 1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano, optional
  • 1 tbsp hot oil (you can sub in red pepper flakes but add them to the tomato sauce when simmering)
  • toasted bread to serve


  • Over medium heat, pour the olive oil into a frying pan, and add the garlic, capers, onion; stir for 1 minute.
  • When the onion mixture has begun to soften, add the zucchini and cook, stirring often for about 5-7 minutes or until the zucchini also becomes soft.
  • Add in the tomatoes and stir to combine all of the vegetables, cooking for about another 5-8 minutes.
  • Crack one egg into a ramekin; make 4 indentations into the tomato sauce and slowly pour the egg into one of the indentations and repeat with the rest of the eggs (alternately, cook eggs in another pan and lay them on top of the tomato sauce for a less "tomatoey" egg!)
  • Cook the eggs for 5 minutes  (the whites will usually set and the yolks will still be loose); watch the pan closely so you don’t hard cook the eggs.
  • Top with shredded cheese (if using), chopped parsley and a drizzle of hot oil (amount depends on your ability to take the heat!!).  If you use red pepper flakes instead of hot oil, feel free to drizzle dish with extra olive oil before serving!