In her fascinating and unique cookbook, the late Alice B. Toklas recalled a French cook with a fine sense of social distinction.
An honored guest was served a souffle, ordinary visitors were presented with an omelette, and, as an insult, one was given fried eggs. One wonders where on the social scale she would have placed chakchouka, a Moroccan specialty in which eggs are poached in a rich tomato sauce. Would she have made it the equal of an omelette fines herbes? Probably not, since for the French cook, any dish not born in the classic French kitchen is a bastard, best left on the steps of the nearest convent.
Nonetheless, it is a fine dish, cheap to make and easy as well. If, like many of us, you have given up eating eggs for breakfast, then chakchouka, served as the main course of a light meal, would not increase your cholesterol count unduly.
To make the dish, take a wide saucepan or a deep frying pan and fry 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, chopped, in ample olive oil (other oil may be used, but what a pity to sacrifice the special taste). When the garlic is just beginning to turn brown, throw in a handfull of chopped Italian parsley.
After letting the parsley fry for about a minute, add 4 or 5 peeled and chopped tomatoes. Tomatoes are peeled by leaving in boiling water for about 2 minutes and then rinsing them with cold water. The peel should slip right off. If good ripe tomatoes are not available, you are probably better off using a large can of peeled tomatoes.
Cook this mixture for a few minutes, mashing the tomatoes a little with a wooden spoon. If you think it is too pale, you can add a little tomato paste. When the sauce is bubbling merrily, taste it and add salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar if the sauce is too sour. The pieces of tomato should be pulpy, but not totally unidentifiable.
Lower the heat and slide 6 eggs (breaking each into a saucer first) onto the surface of the sauce. Sprinkle salt and pepper on eggs, cover, and raise the heat, cooking them for another 5 minutes. As in poached eggs, the whites should be firm and the yolks still runny. If you like firmer eggs, cook for about 10 minutes or longer.
The experienced cook has already undoubtedly realized that this is a dish which lends itself to almost endless variations. Bacon, sausage or salami can be fried with the garlic, as can chopped onions, green peppers or zucchini. Virtually any cooked vegetable (except perhaps beets) can be added with the tomatoes. For those who like hot food, red or green hot peppers are appropriate.
Although the dish can be served with rice, potatoes or noodles, it is really best when eaten with big chunks of fresh crusty French or Italian bread.