How is it possible that the simplest combination of ripe-at-the-same-time ingredients turns out to be such a mouthwatering flavor explosion, no matter how you put it together?
I never get tired of rearranging ratatouille—eggplant, zucchini, red bell pepper, onions and tomatoes—and this time, I married the classic Provencal stew with a classic Jewish breakfast dish, shakshuka.
The first time I heard of shakshuka was during a pre-wedding meeting with Rabbi Mark, who formerly led Temple Emanuel in Winston-Salem, where my then-fiancé, Les, is a member. When our ceremony-planning conversation took a detour toward food and cooking (as literally every conversation with me eventually does), Mark asked if I’d ever made shakshuka, the Middle Eastern dish that is a breakfast staple in many Jewish households. I was stumped because I had never even heard of this dish, let alone made it. But that changed quickly, and it has become an occasional favorite at our house.
Shakshuka is a humble and hearty, tomato-based skillet meal, and a great way to use up whatever other vegetables you have on hand, with eggs simmered right into the sauce. It is very similar to a dish the Italians call “eggs in purgatory.” I especially appreciate how simple it is to pull together when I have had a busy week with little time to plan a menu. Up until now, I have made it only with the spicy flavors that are traditional to the northern African region, where shakshuka originated—cumin, paprika, hot pepper, garlic and oregano.
But this time, I took the concept of shakshuka northward across the Mediterranean Sea, into the south of France, using Herbs de Provence alongside all the beloved vegetables of ratatouille. The result, as you can see, was awesome!
There was so much nourishing comfort in the stewed vegetables, which simmered long enough to become soft and melded, and the delicate herbs were just right. I’m already craving it again!
As with most recipes, it’s helpful to have all your ingredients chopped and ready before you begin. For any stew, I like to cut up the vegetables into roughly similar size. This ensures more even cooking, and also makes it possible to get a little bit of everything in each delicious bite. I used a large zucchini, a large “millionaire” eggplant (the slender, Japanese variety), half of a large onion, half of a huge red bell pepper and three fresh, red tomatoes from my garden. In addition to the fresh ingredients, you’ll need a 15 oz. can of tomato sauce, a splash of dry white wine (I used dry French vermouth), a pinch or two of Herbs de Provence, and up to six eggs.
That’s a lot of veggies! I made this version of shakshuka in a larger pot than usual because I knew that tossing all of these fresh vegetables in my go-to cast iron would be a serious challenge, and I wanted to avoid making a big mess. The ratatouille also needs to be stirred as it cooks, so be sure your cooking vessel can handle the volume of ingredients as well as the mixing requirement. Choose a pot that has a snug-fitting lid, as this will be important for simmering.
Begin by heating the pan over medium flame. Add oil and start sautéing the vegetables. Eggplant soaks up oil fast so I held that back until the peppers, onions and zucchini had a chance to soften. Remember to season each layer with a pinch of salt and pepper, not only for flavor, but also because salt helps to draw excess moisture from the vegetables as they cook. During this stage, also add a few pinches of Herbs de Provence, a French blend that includes any combination of thyme, savory, rosemary, marjoram and lavender. These are delicate herbs, but they do pack a fragrant punch, so start with a small amount and inch up to taste.
When the vegetables are visibly softened, add the fresh garden tomatoes and give it a stir. Add the tomato sauce and dry white wine. If I have used a canned ingredient, I usually swish the wine around in the empty can to rinse out the last bit of flavor. Another quick pinch of salt and pepper, and then reduce the heat, cover the pan and allow it to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. The vegetables will continue to soften, melding the flavors together, but the sauce should not reduce too much. While it simmers, take the eggs out of the fridge; they will set in the shakshuka better if they are closer to room temperature.
When the ratatouille stew has become very soft, crack each egg into a ramekin dish for easy transfer to the shakshuka. This may seem unnecessary, but trust me when I tell you that it is no fun at all trying to fish out itty-bitty pieces of egg shell that went astray into a big saucy mixture. If anything goes sideways with your cracked eggs, you want it to happen in the ramekin, not in your beautiful recipe!
Give the stew a gentle stir, and then use the back of a large serving spoon to create a slight depression for each egg to rest. This doesn’t have to be perfect, and you only need a spot about 3 inches across for each egg. I had room for six eggs in my large pot, but I only used four because I knew the extras would not warm up well without overcooking. Better to add fresh eggs when you heat up the leftovers.
Slip an egg into each depression and give the shakshuka one final pinch of salt and pepper before covering the pot. Keep the flame set on low and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the whites are set but the yolks still have a bit of jiggle to them.
Scatter fresh, chopped herbs over the dish (I used fresh basil from the garden, but flat-leaf parsley would be nice, too), and serve immediately with a slice of crusty French bread. The best way to serve this dish is to use a wide, somewhat flat spoon to scoop underneath an egg, grabbing as much of the surrounding stew as possible at the same time. Sprinkle on a teaspoon or so of grated Parmesan for a big burst of umami flavor.
- 1 large zucchini, trimmed and chopped
- 1/2 large sweet onion, chopped
- 1/2 large (or 1 medium) red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 large Japanese eggplant, chopped (or about 2 cups of alternate variety)
- 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- Up to 1 tsp. Herbs de Provence (or Italian seasoning, if preferred)
- 3 small, fresh tomatoes, chopped
- 15 oz. can low-sodium tomato sauce
- 2 Tbsp. dry white wine (or dry vermouth)
- 6 large eggs* (see recipe note below)
- Fresh basil or Italian parsley, for garnish
- Heat large pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and saute vegetables, beginning with only zucchini, onion and bell pepper. When the first vegetables begin to soften, add the eggplant and saute until all veggies are tender. Season with salt, pepper and Herbs de Provence.
- Add fresh tomatoes, tomato sauce and dry wine, stirring to combine evenly. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Remove eggs from fridge during the simmer time.
- When vegetables are fulley softened, crack each egg into a ramekin cup for easy transfer into the pot. Use the back or a large serving spoon to make a depression for each egg. Slip the eggs into the depressions, season with salt and pepper and cover the pan.
- Cook over low heat about 8 minutes, until egg whites are set and yolks are still slightly jiggly. Serve immediately.
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