On Saturday mornings, once a month, I join a handful of volunteers in my neighborhood to distribute groceries and share coffee & conversation with residents who often have trouble getting to the grocery store or find themselves with limited resources. The people who come to our post to pick-up goodies tend to be on the older side and Italian immigrants (this is the North End). I got the idea for this dish while talking to one of our residents last month: it’s a dish he remembered from his younger years. He described eggs poached in a simmering broth of tomatoes and garlic served over toast. He didn’t have a recipe per se, just thoughts and memories on ingredients and flavors.
Last weekend, I took a shot at the dish based just on our conversation. Instead of toast, I thought it would be fun to serve the eggs over a bed of polenta. I made it for both Saturday and Sunday breakfast, cooking the polenta by baking it first, and by pan-frying it the second day. Since poaching eggs can be a delicate task taking up much of a small stove top, I thought it simplified things to put the polenta cakes in the oven and just let them be.
Also, the first day we made it, I thought the tomatoes overpowered the flavors of the eggs. When you make this, it’s important to let the tomatoes cook long enough so they start to break up and form a sauce. The softer your tomato component, the better it will blend with the creamy polenta and runny yolks.
We also prepped a quick fruit salad to serve along side the eggs. I think I’m getting too enthusiastic about buying strawberries this early, but they were good to mix with the last of the winter citrus.
1 28 oz. tomatoes, crushed or diced (I like San Marzano)
1 clove garlic, finely minced
Pre-cooked polenta (I use the kind sold in a round sausage-like package, slicing off 1/2-inch pieces to serve as my polenta cakes)
Olive oil or other cooking oil
Note: This recipe makes a lot of tomato sauce — I cooked the whole can of tomatoes on the first Saturday and reserved half the cooked sauce in the fridge overnight for the next day. That way I had pre-made sauce ready-to-go, and only had to heat it up to poach a fresh batch of eggs.
1) Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. On the stove, heat the olive oil or cooking oil in a large (10 or 12-inch) skillet over medium heat. Make sure the skillet you use will give the eggs enough room to cook.
2) Add the tomatoes and allow to simmer, about 20 minutes, until the tomato chunks start to break down to a smoother consistency. The extent to which you break down the tomatoes will determine how sharp or blended their flavor is in the final dish.
3) Meanwhile, prepare the polenta cakes as directed. If you’re using the pre-cooked round, slice off 1/2-inch pieces and lay them on a greased baking sheet. Put them in the oven until heated through, also about 20 minutes.
4) When the tomatoes are broken down and the sauce is starting to bubble, turn the heat down and crack four eggs into the sauce. Be sure to give them each a good deal of space so they aren’t crowded together. Cover the skillet and allow to simmer, 3-4 minutes.
5) While the eggs are cooking, remove the polenta from the oven and plate 3 or cakes on each plate.
6) When the eggs are done to your desired consistency, use a slotted spoon to gently transfer to eggs to plates, on top of the polenta cakes. Top off with additional tomato sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper.