Heirloom Tomato Shakshuka
Summer’s tomatoes have been a constant source of inspiration – from different salads to bruschetta toppings to side dishes and even simply roasted and sprinkled with sea salt. The late summer varieties and, particularly, the heirlooms were speaking to me last weekend. I wanted to create a dish that, typically calling for canned whole tomatoes, would benefit from the intense flavor and sweetness these tomatoes offer. I went with a Maghreb dish called shakshuka.
My inspiration started with a local farm stand’s crazy number of heirloom varieties. I went with the heirloom plum tomatoes, which are excellent for a sauce like this.
The Maghreb region incorporates the northwest portion of Africa – Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Algeria and Mauritania. Shakshuka is a mainstay there – baked eggs over an onion and tomato sauce that’s eaten for breakfast or supper – and even made its way to Israel where it’s an extremely popular dish. The main ingredients for the dish are tomatoes, onions, garlic and eggs, and it differs from country to country, city to city, family to family. It can be as simple or extravagant as you like – I tailored this version to my tastes, but feel free to make it your own!
First, please excuse the overcooked eggs in these pictures. My husband likes everything well done and I didn’t take the dish out early enough for the final picture…ha! It was still delicious and the cheese melted down and got all brown and bubbly. The sweet onions, the intensity of those tomatoes, a bit of heat from the chilies and the fragrant spices – cumin, saffron, smoked paprika….it was all a bit heady. I got a fresh-baked, roasted garlic loaf, sliced that baby up and toasted with a bit of butter. The combination was heavenly! I could put that sauce on anything (grilled fish, some nicely seared scallops, that bread alone…) and be incredibly happy. This is my brunch staple…enjoy!
Serves 4 – 5
¾ tsp whole cumin seeds
2-3 tbsps olive oil
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 – 4 red peppers, mix of hot and sweet*
pinch of saffron
1 tsp smoked paprika
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
2 lbs heirloom plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
handful of cilantro, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup fresh cheese (cream cheese, farmer’s cheese or queso fresco all work well)
6 whole eggs
I like to cook this in a skillet and then transfer to a clay baking dish to finish in the oven. You can just as easily make this in a cast-iron pan for double-duty or simply cover and finish this dish on the stove. If you are finishing in the oven, preheat the broiler.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and dry toast until fragrant. Add olive oil, sliced onions, peppers, saffron, and paprika and cook for 6 to 8 minutes until onions are translucent. Add garlic, thyme and bay leaf and sauté another minute or two until the garlic is fragrant. I add in the thyme whole, let the leaves fall off, and pull off the stems later. If you want to remove the leaves from the stems before adding, feel free.
Now, add in the rough-chopped tomatoes (seeds and all!) and cook for another 12 to 15 minutes until tomatoes have softened, much of the liquid has evaporated, and the dish has taken on a thick, sauce-like consistency.
Remove the thyme stems, if left in, and bay leaves. Add the chopped cilantro, reserving a few tablespoons for garnish, and adjust seasoning.
If you are transferring to a baking dish, do this now. Divide the cheese into small bite-sized pieces with your hands, and dot the surface of the sauce with it. Carefully, crack the eggs over the sauce so that the eggs are distributed evenly across the surface. Sprinkle the tops of the eggs with a bit of salt. Either cover dish with a lid or foil and cook for another 6 to 8 minutes or place under the broiler for 3 to 4 minutes until the whites of the eggs have set and the cheese is melted.
Garnish with remaining chopped cilantro and serve hot with thick-cut pieces of toast.
* I used (2) hot red chilies and (2) medium-sized sweet peppers, but feel free to adapt to your own tastes.