One day in the kitchen of the Montreux Palace where I worked in Switzerland, one of the chefs — his name was Eric — persuaded the head chef to let him make something special for staff family meal. I was fascinated as I watched Eric make a quick, aromatic sauce of tomato, onion, garlic, and herbes de Provence in one of the hotel’s big copper pots, crack some eggs into the sauce, and pop it in the oven. Since we were in Switzerland, he threw a little Swiss cheese on top. I had never seen eggs coddled that way — or that smelled so delicious. While it was cooking, Eric explained that he had grown up on a farm in Provence, and his family was quite poor, but they had a lot of hens. His grandmother often made this dish for supper, served with crusty bread to soak up the sauce and runny yolk. We all sat around to dig in together, and it was one of those magical food moments that has a lasting effect. I quickly learned how to make this incredible dish, which never fails to entice and is the perfect meal for any “family,” whether that’s at work or at home.
At Freds, we cook these in small individual pots, but at home I make it in a small Dutch oven, or any heavy ovenproof pot such as one from Le Creuset, a Staub ceramic pot (be careful of breakage with the Staub), or a 2-quart saucepan. At home I like to serve it rustically by putting the pot on the table straight from the oven and dishing it there, with two pieces of bruschetta per serving. However you serve it, remember that the handles of the pot will be extremely hot, so make sure you have enough kitchen towels for holding the handles, and make sure your guests don’t touch it!
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon herbs de Provence
- Pinch of crushed red pepper
- 2 cups Italian canned crushed tomatoes
- Kosher salt
- 6 leaves fresh basil, coarsely chopped
- 4 large eggs (6 if they’re small)
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Gruyère cheese
- 2 thick slices peasant-style bread
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
In an ovenproof pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil and add the garlic. Cook until the garlic is lightly browned, then add the shallot. Stir together and cook until the shallot is translucent but not browned. Add the herbs de Provence and red pepper, stir together, and add the tomatoes and a pinch of salt. Simmer over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the sauce is thickened and a deep red color. Turn off the heat, stir in the basil, and adjust salt if needed.
While the sauce is hot, crack the eggs one by one and place gently in the sauce, making sure they are in separate areas of the pan. I recommend cracking each egg into a small bowl and pouring them from the bowl. Sprinkle cheese over the top and transfer the uncovered pot to the oven. Bake until the eggs are done to your preference. If you like them runny, that should be about 5 minutes; longer if you like them more well done. Like the Frenchman Eric and most chefs, I think they’re best when the whites are cooked but the yolks are still runny.
While the eggs are baking, toast the bread and while it’s still hot, rub the edges with the garlic clove. Press firmly so that the oils of the garlic permeate the crust.
Just before serving, stick the toast decoratively into the edge of the pot, making sure not to disturb the coddled eggs. Serve immediately.