Frank's Eggs and Pasta for Lent

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 large cans Contadina or Hunt's tomato paste
9 large cans water or vegetable broth
1 cup Madiera wine
10 cloves garlic, whole
2 bay leaves
3 tsp. Frank Davis Sicilian Seasoning
1/2 cup Italian flatleaf parsley, minced
6 strips anchovies, chopped and mashed
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. black pepper, coarsely ground
2 dozen eggs, raw
2 lbs. cooked pasta, al dente
1/2 cup green onions, thinly sliced
2 cups Romano or Parmesan cheese, grated
Loaves of French or Italian bread for dipping

Start off with a heavy-bottomed 6-quart Dutch oven or oval roaster and heat the olive oil until it almost sizzles.

Then drop in the onions and the minced garlic and saute the mixture until it wilts and softens (but be careful not to burn the garlic or it will turn bitter).

When the onions have rendered out most of their water, stir in the tomato paste and fry it down stirring continuously for about a minute or two to 'mellow' out the tomato acid.

At this point pour in the water or the vegetable broth, along with the wine, and work them into the tomato paste until a smooth and silky gravy base forms.

Then drop in the whole garlic cloves, the bay leaves, the Sicilian seasoning, the parsley, and the anchovies.

When all the ingredients are in, season the gravy Italians refer to it as a sugo with salt and pepper, put a lid on the pot, reduce the fire to very low, and simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

When you're ready to eat, transfer about a fourth of the gravy to a 12-inch or 14-inch, high-sided frypan or chicken fryer.

Then bring the pan to a slow, slow boil and begin cracking the raw eggs directly into the hot gravy but you got to do this very gently or the eggs will 'run' through the gravy and the yolks will break.

As long as the gravy is simmering, you can continue to add and cook eggs just avoid stirring the pot! Incidentally, just so you'll know, it will take about four minutes for the eggs to harden and be ready to serve (since what you're really doing is poaching them in the hot flavored gravy).

The classical Sicilian way to serve this dish is to first plate up a helping of pasta.

Then ladle the gravy over the top, crown it with a couple of eggs (removed from the gravy with a slotted spoon), sprinkle on the thinly sliced green onions and a scattering of grated Romano, and top it off with a hefty piece of Italian bread hot from the oven!

I doubt that you could find an Italian family in New Orleans that hasn't dished this up as the mainstay meal on any Friday during Lent. And especially on Good Friday.


Chef's Notes:

If you're going to make this recipe outside of Lent, you can make it with water, vegetable broth, seafood stock, or chicken broth. But chicken broth is recognized as 'meat' and traditionally cannot be eaten on Fridays during Lent.

The recipe is traditionally made with #4 spaghetti, although other pasta shapes can be used if you prefer. I can also tell you that whole-wheat pasta makes a nice substitute.

A non-traditional and non-authentic variation is often served in New Orleans. Rather than crack the raw eggs into the gravy to cook them, some folks simply hardboil a dozen or so eggs, peel them, drop them into the gravy, and simmer them for two hours along with the simmering gravy. Granted, this is good, and it's a shortcut; but it doesn't have the taste or texture of the classical dish.

The gravy that you don't use when serving this dish (in other words, the extra gravy you have left over after doing the eggs in the skillet) can be cooled then refrigerated and used for other Italian recipes.