We grew up on a lot of tomato sauce. Our basement cupboards housed rows and rows of jars that we canned every August to last for the year. My feelings toward the annual sauce-making weekend have taken a few turns throughout my life. The spectrum ranges from ecstatic to bored, embarrassed to hopeful. I’m teetering on hopeful now—that is, hopeful my parents will do it this year so I can pay attention for once.
I was around 3 years old the first time I helped. We lived in Brooklyn and I found my mom in the basement surrounded by bushels of plum tomatoes. It looked like mountains of red surrounding my little four-foot-ten mama—so many tomatoes that she actually agreed to let me help. She set me on the floor with a butter knife and a bowl, and I spent the day (or maybe 10 minutes—time moves so slowly when you’re 3) cutting tomatoes in half for the strainer. I remember it being hard work and envying the knife my older brother was using. I swore I could get more done with a real knife…and well, I had a point. But the thrill of being given an honest-to-God job was enough to keep me going.
I spent a few years ignoring the whole production, staying upstairs in the air conditioning while my parents sweated through the year’s batch. When adolescence hit I was mortified by the ordeal. I couldn’t believe my parents could be so old-fashioned, so out of touch with the fact that you could actually buy the stuff already made. Already seasoned, even! I remember cringing when a friend opened the cupboard looking for a water glass and discovered the stash.
Now I’m making up for lost time. My parents haven’t made sauce in a few years since they’re no longer feeding a houseful of kids. I have no idea how to do it. I’m starting to panic. I let the tradition pass me by without a care and now I have to convince them to bring it back. But we’ve set aside a weekend in August to make a few jars so I’m hopeful.
In anticipation of the comeback, I’ve been remembering my favorite sauce dishes growing up. We made the usual classics: pastas, pots of meatballs, stews, etc. One dish in particular, though, only emerged at my grandmother’s house: Tomato sauce with eggs. It was a weekday lunch more than anything—something you threw together for one or two people with a stale hunk of bread. This was a staple for my mom and her family in Sicily since they had easy access to tomatoes and eggs on the farm. And it’s one of the first things I learned to cook once I mastered the fine art of cracking an egg.
I hadn’t eaten sauce and eggs in a good 19 years—since my grandmother passed away—so I revived it for dinner this weekend. It’s amazing how smells and flavors can bring you back, even more than a song. I’d forgotten what it was like to sit at my Nonna Rosalia’s kitchen table until I made this. It got me thinking about the Last Supper painting that hung on the wall above her table; how she owned a tiny frying pan small enough for one egg; the way she always rubbed her hands together; the house coats she wore with the little blue flowers; that dish of Sicilian hard candies she kept in the closet; the can of concentrated lemonade in her freezer I never once saw her use.
I wasn’t expecting such a rush; I hadn’t realized how much I’d forgotten and how many memories were buried, just waiting for a reason to resurface. And so, this tomato-egg comeback is back in the rotation, with all its welcomed ghosts.
This dish is so easy, you’ll never need to consult a recipe after making it once:
Coat a frying pay with olive oil. Throw in some chopped garlic and onions.
Pour in a can or jar of crushed tomatoes (however much you want) once the onions and garlic begin to soften.
Season the tomatoes with basil, oregano, salt, and pepper to taste. You can add more olive oil if you’re so inclined.
When you get the sauce to your liking, crack an egg or two into the pan and immediately stir to break the yolk. You have to act fast to keep the egg from cooking into clumps rather than blending into the sauce.
Serve it with a plain loaf of Semolina bread or a baguette. We ate it with garlic bread but decided it’s better without any other flavors competing for attention. It’s also good straight-up, with a spoon.