During the week, I have a tendency to neglect breakfast. While I might have moved on from my student days of a coffee, a Snickers bar, and a cigarette, I’m still more likely to survive on cups of tea until lunchtime. But I more than make up for it on weekends, when I’m content for mornings to slip deliciously into afternoons, accompanied by dishes I would eschew in the working week: slow-cooked nubbly oat-filled porridge with stewed fruit, homemade granola, boiled eggs with dippy soldiers. Bacon and egg sandwiches or fat sausages spread with English mustard; scotch pancakes, or kedgeree, even devilled kidneys when the mood strikes.
But what introduced me to the joys of the proper, sit-down weekend breakfast was shakshuka. Shakshuka is a dish of eggs poached in a tomato sauce, which is cooked with peppers and onions and spices. It’s hot in both senses, but sweet and aromatic, and the yolks weaving into the tomato sauce when broken with a fork is irresistible. It’s straightforward to make, if you don’t mind a bit of chopping, but looks impressive, and I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t love it. It’s a one pot dish, and cries out to be eaten with hot buttered toast, which ticks two further breakfasts boxes in my book.
This recipe is based on Seb Emina’s shakshuka from his excellent The Breakfast Bible. The trick to a great shakshuka is time management: while the shakshuka is covered and cooking on the hob, you have time to organise yourself and your table. Gather your accoutrements: toast your bread, brew your coffee or tea, and pour your juice. Call your fellow breakfasters to the table a few moments before you plan to serve; they can occupy themselves with pouring coffee or buttering toast. The tomatoes will continue to cook the eggs even once the pan has been taken off the heat, so timing is of the essence: your house guests can wait, your eggs will not. For runny yolks, you require attentive and enthusiastic guests. And if they are not attentive and enthusiastic, they don’t deserve this pan of bounty in any event.
Makes: Serves 4
Takes: 10 minutes
Bakes: 20 minutes (on the stove)
4-8 eggs depending on how many breakfasters are present, and how much they love eggs
1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 red peppers
2 tins of plum tomatoes
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves or a scant teaspoon of dried thyme
1 red or green chilli, diced as finely as your can bear
1 tablespoon dark muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
A fat handful of coriander
1. Put your cumin in a dry pan and allow the pan to heat up to a medium heat until you can smell the cumin. Now add the oil and allow to fry for a further two minutes.
2. Meanwhile, take your onions. Dice one as finely as you can be bothered, and slice the other, creating thin half moons and crescent moons, and add them to the pan. Allow them to sit and gently fry for another few minutes until they are translucent and soft.
3. Chop the peppers into long elegant strips. Add them along with the sugar and thyme and leave on the same heat for three minutes until the peppers are beginning to soften.
4. Now add the cayenne, chopped chilli pepper and tomatoes. Squish the plum tomatoes with your hands, to break them up, but beware that they splatter impressively: wear an apron! Turn down the heat a little and cook for 15 minutes by which time the tomatoes should be reduced, but not dry.
5. Crack your first egg into a small cup, and then make a little divot in your tomato mixture with the back of your spoon. Hold your mug close to this divot and tip the egg into the space. Repeat for as many eggs as you’re using, spacing as evenly as you can. Cover the pan ideally with a lid, or tightly fitting tin foil.
6. Take sneaky peeks beneath the lid: as soon as the whites of the egg are white rather than translucent, you’re there: this should take about five minutes. Sprinkle liberally with chopped coriander. Deliver the pan to the table and serve immediately.