It’s one of the worst weeks of the year: the week of spring forward, when we all lose an hour of sleep that, most of the time, results in a week-long brain fog and total lack of desire to cook — or do, for that matter — anything.
Hear me out, I know the weather is just now warm enough that everyone is getting the venison out of their freezers from last fall, getting out the charcoal and firing up the grill, probably accompanied by the first brush fire of the season. However, this is an easy, customizable casserole-style dish. It takes less than 20 minutes to make, and you can feed almost anyone with it. Wednesday night, the hump day after daylight savings, it was exactly what the doctor ordered.
Welcome to shakshuka
Sources vary on shakshuka’s origins, but I’ve always loved cooking casserole-type dishes with big chunks of tomato. My least favorite dish is lasagna. My favorite tomato dish was always my mother’s Spanish rice (I believe it was Zatarains). My mom would add extra tomato for me and it was an easy weeknight meal for a mother of two girls two years apart — the eldest of whom was the problem child. My sister played the violin.
The original dish of shakshuka may not necessarily call for a chopped spicy pepper, but I like to add a spicy banana pepper or Hungarian hot wax for a little kick because there’s some cayenne and paprika coming in later. My mother could have said that as a preface to my teachers to let them know what they were getting into. She didn’t though, and I had many a parent-teacher conference.
Shakshuka I like, because it reminds me of the nights my father would go to the Knights of Columbus and play darts. It was the only night of the week he wore his leather jacket, and he came back smelling like cigars. That was girls night for us. It was a time to eat exactly what we wanted, and a casserole was an easy thing for my hard-working mom to put on the table for three girls to sit, to enjoy, and laugh our backsides off watching Ace Ventura, or more likely Gilmore Girls.
My take on Shakshuka
It starts pretty typical. Take your favorite large steel or cast iron pan. I try to use non-stick if I can help it. Roughly and carelessly chop one red bell pepper and one sweet onion. Heat them in the pan with a healthy serving of butter, 2 tablespoons should do it. Generously salt and heat over medium heat.
As far as the garlic goes, it’s up to you. I recommend a minimum of three cloves, coarsely and carelessly chopped — but don’t put them in yet. Make sure the onion and pepper is nice and soft, and mildly caramelized because garlic burns quick and turns bitter. It can, in some circumstances, ruin the flavor of your entire dish. Some recipes ask you to caramelize the onion and the garlic together — I never use those. If the garlic burns, you can’t eat it.
I’m adding seven cloves of garlic, by the way.
Depending on your spice preference, I would add healthy shakes of cayenne pepper. This isn’t to make it overwhelming, but the different layers of hot peppers, with the acid of the tomatoes, creates a layered flavor profile for a very simple dish. It’s up to you. Once those alliums and nightshades (peppers and onions) have begun to lose their moisture and volume, I roughly chop three medium-sized whole tomatoes that are about to start rotting on our kitchen counter (because this is daylight savings week).
I also pull out a 28-ounce can of whole, peeled tomatoes, in this case Muir Glen. You’re going to want to make sure you have some flat leaf parsley — not curly parsley — and some fresh cilantro. If you are able, please don’t use dry versions of these, the freshness really adds to the overall profile of the dish, the way my freshness added to my second-grade teacher’s resentment of me.
Once your peppers start sticking to the pan, and create a fond, add your chopped tomatoes. The tomato juice will act as a deglaze for the fond, which is the caramelized sugar from the veggies that sticks to the pan. Turn the heat back up to medium and begin to stew your fruits.
Add your can of whole peeled tomatoes and using a rubber spatula, smoosh them down. Bring the heat up so the contents of the pan come to a nice simmer, and add some salt or paprika to taste. Now that there’s enough liquid in the pan, add your garlic. Add 1 tablespoon of honey or sugar to cut the acid (thanks mom).
The final step is to add your eggs, unless you are a true bohemian and decide to also add cheese. This is not unheard of — cheese, tomatoes and eggs are delicious. Some even add corn. But as it is midweek after daylight savings, I have no corn, I have some cheese, and my willpower is dwindling.
Roughly chop half of your bunch of parsley, half your bunch of cilantro, and when your tomatoes have reduced to a thickened sauce, use a spoon to create several wells. Traditional recipes call for less, but my partner is a carnivore, so I usually add more. Today, I’m using nine.
When your shakshuka is ready, nice and rich with no water remaining, crack and drop your eggs into the wells like eggs in a nest. If you’d like, cover with cheese and cover with a baking sheet because you can’t find the lid to your pan. It’ll be fine.
Top with parsley and cilantro, serve with multiple spoons and put on something funny. You’ll have plenty of days ahead to be outside, sometimes we just all need a midweek break.