1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 large cans tomato paste
9 cans vegetable broth
1 cup Madiera wine
10 cloves garlic, whole
2 bay leaves
3 tsp. 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 lbs. peeled, deveined, and butter-flied shrimp
2 dozen eggs, raw
2 lbs. cooked spaghetti, al dente
2/3 cup green onions, thinly sliced
2 cups Romano or Parmesan cheese, grated
Loaves of hot baked 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 sauté the mixture until it wilts and softens (but be careful not to burn the garlic or it will make the gravy 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 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 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 fry pan or chicken fryer.
Then bring the gravy to a slow, slow boil.
At this stage, drop in the raw shrimp and continually stir them around in the pan until they turn pink—that means they are just barely (but fully) cooked and still extremely tender.
When the shrimp have been in the gravy for about 6 minutes or so, quickly remove them with a slotted spoon, place them in a Pyrex bowl, and set them aside for a few minutes.
And now you can finish up the rest of this recipe:
A few at a time, begin cracking the raw eggs directly into the hot gravy—but you have to do this very, very gently or the eggs will “run” through the gravy and the yolks will break. And don’t hurry the process by overcrowding the eggs!
After they have fully cooked, remove the eggs from the pan with a strainer spoon and set them aside with the shrimp.
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 5 minutes for the eggs to harden and become ready to eat (remember that what you’re really doing is poaching eggs in a hot flavored gravy).
When both the eggs and the shrimp are together on the same platter, return them to the pot of gravy and reheat them to serving temperature (but don’t stir too rough!).
The recommend way to serve this dish is in the classical Sicilian manner:
First plate up a helping of pasta.
Then ladle the gravy over the top, crown it with a couple of eggs and a generous helping of shrimp (which you should remove 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 seriously doubt that you could find an Italian family in all of New Orleans, after reading through this recipe, that hasn’t just now decided to try this dish for the mainstay meal this coming Friday (or any Friday, both during and after Lent). And especially on Good Friday.
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 for folks on a restricted diet, but it tastes nothing like 100% semolina.
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 classic 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) can be cooled then refrigerated and used for other Italian recipes.