This eggs in purgatory recipe for uova al purgatorio in Italian makes the Calabrian rendition of this Southern Italian specialty. A centuries-old dish of eggs poached in a rich tomato sauce, it originated in Naples. The secret to this spicy iteration of that family favourite is ’nduja, the spreadable, spicy sausage from Calabria.
Our recipe for the Calabrian rendition of the old Southern Italian favourite called eggs in purgatory or uova al purgatorio makes a fantastic version of this dish of soft poached eggs in a rich tomato sauce with ’nduja, the spicy spreadable sausage from Spilinga in Italy’s southernmost province. In Calabria it’s also known as uova fra diavolo (eggs between the devil) and uova ca ’nduja (eggs with spicy Calabrian sausage).
This Southern Italian eggs in purgatory recipe is the first recipe in our revitalised Weekend Eggs series. We first began the series of breakfast eggs recipes from around the world when we launched Grantourismo in January 2010 with our year-long global grand tour focused on slow, local and experiential travel. Each recipe was the result of two weeks settling into a place, learning the quintessential dishes among other things.
But before I tell you more about that and this wonderful Calabrian take on the eggs in purgatory recipe, we have a favour to ask. If you’ve made our recipes and enjoyed them, please consider supporting Grantourismo by clicking on our affiliate partner links. Grantourismo is reader-supported, which means we rely on income generated from readers to continue to publish.
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Now let me tell you about this eggs in purgatory recipe for uova al purgatorio made with ’nduja, Calabria’s famous spicy sausage spread.
Eggs in Purgatory Recipe from Southern Italy – The Calabrian Rendition with Spicy Nduja
This eggs in purgatory recipe for uova al purgatorio makes a richer and spicier iteration of the Southern Italy dish that originated in Naples. Also known in Calabria as uova fra diavolo (eggs between the devil) and uova ca ’nduja (eggs with spicy Calabrian sausage), the dish is essentially the eggs in purgatory recipe with the addition of some of Calabria’s finest ingredients, its famous fiery sausage spread called ’nduja, aromatic red peppers or peperoncino, and Tropea onions or red shallots.
While uova al purgatorio is frequently referred to as an ‘ancient’ dish, that’s impossible as the tomato (pomodoro) and chilli pepper (peperoncino) didn’t arrive in Italy until around 1500. Both were brought to Italy via Spain from South America and Central America, with Italian explorer Christopher Columbus in a movement of food, plants, culture, animals, people, ideas, and diseases, which became known as the Columbian Exchange.
The first recipe in an Italian cookbook for a tomato sauce made from tomatoes, onions, chilli peppers, thyme, possibly marjoram, salt, oil, and vinegar, wasn’t published until 1692 in The Modern Steward in Naples by a cook called Antonio Latini. John Dickie in Delizia! The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food calls it a ‘Spanish tomato sauce’. Latini was also said to be the first to mention peperoncino in a cookbook.
One of my quests on that 2010 yearlong global grand tour, aimed at promoting slow, local and experiential travel, was to learn to cook the quintessential dishes of each of the places we settled into for two weeks at a time, including the quintessential breakfast dishes, which we published in our Weekend Eggs series.
One of the first Weekend Eggs recipes, which I made in Morocco was a recipe for chakchouka, also spelt shakshuka, a Tunisian baked eggs dish cooked right across North Africa and in parts of the Levant. This eggs in purgatory recipe always reminded me of chakchouka and vice versa.
Shakshuka uses harissa, the Tunisian hot chili pepper paste, while the Calabrian rendition of uova al purgatorio used d’nduja, a spicy sausage made with pork offcuts and Calabria’s famous peperoncini. They both have flavour profiles that we love.
We’ve written and updated a dozen travel guidebooks to various parts of Italy over the years but we’ve long had a soft spot for Southern Italy, since our first trip to Italy in 1999 when we spent time in Campania – in Sorrento, Naples, Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, and Salerno – and the following year when we road-tripped around Sicily then took ferries to the Aeolian Islands.
But of all the places we’ve spent time in Italy, we have to confess that Calabria, which we’ve criss-crossed by car on road trips researching and writing a first edition guidebook, holds a special place in our hearts. We have also had a soft spot for Southern Italy, especially Calabria and have long argued that Calabria is the next Puglia, although it’s not had the same media attention yet.
We adore Calabria’s atmospheric hilltop towns, churches, cathedrals and monasteries, pristine national parks, alluring beaches, and foodie destinations, from Camigliatello Silano in the north, beloved for its mushrooms – from local truffles to porcini mushrooms, along with truffle pastes and oils, prosciutto, preserves, and smoked cheeses – to the west coast towns that are revered for everything from swordfish (Scilla) to sweet red onions (Tropea).
We love the spicy food of this ruggedly beautiful southern Italian region, so much so that it was partly the reason we wrote that book on Calabria all those years ago. If you’re not familiar with Calabria, it occupies the toe and sole of the boot-shaped country – which makes this uova al purgatorio recipe the perfect dish to kick off our re-booted Weekend Eggs series of quintessential breakfast dishes from around the world.
Although this uova al purgatorio recipe originated in Naples, and this Calabrian rendition was cooked right across the region and elsewhere in Southern Italy, eggs in purgatory is a dish now cooked right across Italy. It makes a fantastic filling eggs dish that can be eaten for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner.
Tips for Making the Calabrian Rendition of this Eggs in Purgatory Recipe from Southern Italy
I only have a few tips for making this uova al purgatorio recipe as it’s actually very easy. We always use peeled San Marzano tomatoes for this dish. These elongated plum tomatoes are rich and flavourful and a good match to the depth of flavour of the ‘nduja.
One point to keep in mind when cooking this uova al purgatorio recipe is that the tomato sauce needs to really cook out to reduce and intensify the flavour, so don’t attempt this without taking that into consideration. This isn’t a one-minute omelette.
Note that if your pan is too narrow and the sauce fills too much of the height of the pan, the egg whites – even with a lid on – may take a long time to solidify and may cook the yolks through before the whites are set. You can pop the dish in an oven or grill to cook the top of the dish, but take care as the yolks may overcook before the whites are set.
Finally, always break the eggs gently into a small cup (we like to use espresso coffee cups) as directly breaking the eggs into the tomato sauce can have you fishing around for broken eggshell. An espresso cup also gives you better accuracy when pouring the egg into your divot in the sauce.
Perfect for dunking pieces of toasted sourdough into it, this dish of soft poached eggs in a rich tomato sauce can be made in ramekins or small bowls as single-serve dishes or can be served directly from the large Dutch oven at the table.
Eggs in Purgatory Recipe with ’Nduja from Calabria
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil - more for drizzling on toast
- 60 g red shallots or Tropea onions - finely sliced
- 2 large cloves garlic - 1 thinly sliced and 1 halved
- 1 tsp red-pepper flakes - more to taste
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 60 g roasted red peppers - diced
- 60 g 'nduja - plus extra to serve
- 600 g can peeled tomatoes
- ½ tsp fine sea salt - more to taste
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 1 large sprig fresh basil or parsley - more to serve
- 2 tbsp grated Pecorino Romano
- 4 eggs
- baguette - sliced and toasted, for serving
- Place the oil in a large pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the sliced garlic pieces to the pan and sweat the garlic until it the oil bubbles vigorously around the slices. Remove the garlic slices and discard.
- Add the onion to the pan and sweat slowly over a medium-low heat for 15 minutes or until soft. We do not want the onions to colour, just to be translucent and fragrant. Add the remaining garlic and cook for 1 minute.
- Add the 'nduja and the tomato paste and sweat the 'nduja until it becomes soft and almost liquid.
- Add the tomatoes to the pan and crush them down a little. Season with salt and simmer over a low heat for 45 minutes. We want a relatively thick sauce but if it becomes too stiff, add a little water. Taste for seasoning.
- Add the roasted red peppers and stir into the sauce.
- When ready to bake the eggs, break each egg into an individual cup. Make indents into the sauce for the eggs to sit in. We don't want the egg whites to spread across the surface of the sauce. Turn the heat up to get the sauce to have a light simmer.
- Carefully pour each egg into each indent. Put the lid on the pan to cook the eggs. This should take just a few minutes.
- We like our eggs with a runny yolk, but if you like the egg yolks harder, keep cooking until the yolks become lighter in colour and do not wobble when you move the pan.
- Remove the pan from heat and to serve individually, carefully remove each egg 'pocket' with a large serving spoon onto the individual plates.
- Drizzle some olive oil over your baguette slices, top the eggs and sauce with basil or parsley and the grated cheese.
Please do let us know if you make this eggs in purgatory recipe for uova al purgatorio made with ’nduja in the comments below, by email or on social media, as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.