Three meals. One bottle of tomato sauce. Could I incorporate this pasta staple into breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
When met with this latest Thrive Tries It challenge, I instantly wanted to make spicy eggs in purgatory, a sumptuous recipe for a traditional Italian breakfast dish (also known as shakshuka in the Middle East), dreamt up by our food editor Merce Muse. Okay, maybe not follow her recipe exactly—Merce’s version calls for tomato paste and a can of diced tomatoes. I’m no cooking pro, so I recruit my in-house personal chef—aka my tinkering, mad scientist boyfriend, Jeff, who loves to go rogue in the kitchen—to help adapt the recipe.
He also moves like a lightning bolt in there—as I painstakingly review the ingredients list and google tomato paste-to-sauce conversions, he’s already sliced and sautéed the onions and garlic. (This is why I’m usually not the one cooking, people!) We go ahead and throw in about double the amount of tomato sauce (tomato-basil, to be exact) for tomato paste. After cooking up the rest of the ingredients and simmering the mixture, we crack the eggs over top and pop the cast iron skillet into the oven.
I take charge of making sure the eggs get cooked through—and yes, I kind of mess it up. Convinced the dish doesn’t look done after 10 minutes, I let it bake for another five or 10 minutes. No biggie—they’re kind of more like flattened hard-boiled eggs now, but … They taste great! Just the right amount of spice for a morning meal with a kick. Breakfast: check!
We keep it simpler for lunch with one of my favorite fail-safe dishes: a light bowl of angel-hair with a little bit of tomato sauce, sliced roma or grape tomatoes, and sautéed mushrooms. In this delicate dish I can really taste the sweetness of the sauce—perfection! Lunch: check!
Since this particular sauce is made from San Marzano tomatoes, one of the key ingredients in traditional Neapolitan pizza, I decided that iconic dish—topped with the tomato-basil sauce, sliced buffalo mozzarella, halved plum tomatoes, and a generous sprinkling of ribbons of fresh basil—was in order for dinner. Bear in mind, I don’t have a 1000-degree stone oven in my kitchen, so this pie isn’t exactly true to the real thing you would find in Naples, where they take this pizza very seriously.
Jeff has his own from-the-heart, tried-and-true recipe for pizza dough. He’s been known to show up to parties with stacks of fully homemade-from-scratch pizzas—and they all get inhaled. He explains the process to me, but I let him do the handiwork. Here’s the recipe:
Yield: 2 to 4 pizza crusts
Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 24 hours
First, test the yeast to make sure it’s good by mixing one packet yeast in 2 ½ cups water, then adding 1 cup flour and 1 teaspoon sugar. Wait two hours until it bubbles and turns spongy—if it does, the yeast is good. This process is also supposed to help give the bread more flavor.
Put 5 cups flour into a large mixing bowl, pour in the spongy yeast and water mixture, and mix until it forms a batter. Add 2 teaspoons salt. (Be sure not to mix salt with yeast until after this process, since too much direct contact with salt can kill the yeast, stopping the dough from rising.)
Mix until all flour is absorbed, cover, and refrigerate overnight (the mixing bowl should be twice as big as the batter so the dough has room to rise.)
When ready to cook, knead the dough while adding more flour until it turns stretchy without breaking. Knead for no longer than 5 to 10 minutes—over-kneading will turn it into regular white bread dough, rather than bubbly pizza dough. After kneading, let sit for 1 to 2 hours at room temperature.
Roll out the dough (if it sticks to surfaces, that’s a good thing) and let it sit for 10 more minutes. Transfer to a pizza pan, layer on the toppings, and cook at 400 degrees for about 30 to 35 minutes.
For a finishing touch, I grate some parmesan onto the crust before baking—sacrilege, I know, but in the spirit of experimentation, it feels right. The end result: good pizza, but not great, since we ambitiously made two pies and had to be conservative with the last of the sauce left in the jar. More sauce would have made all the difference—because no joke, this stuff is seriously tasty. Dinner: check! And just in time for a Saturday night basketball game.
Mission accomplished! Tomato sauce for BLD wasn’t so weird after all. It doesn’t have to be relegated to a bowl of spaghetti. Try subbing it in for the typical ranch sauce in huevos rancheros. Smear it onto bread as a condiment for grilled cheese. Use it to braise short ribs. The possibilities are endless, even if you aren’t a master chef.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho