There were a few months of my life when I ate shakshuka twice a weekend, every weekend. Tahini on top, toast alongside. I was working at a bakery with shakshuka on the brunch menu, so this was vaguely inevitable and very exciting and then I overdid it and have barely eaten shakshuka since. Which is a shame. Eggs and tomato sauce are so good together.
In shakshuka, the eggs are runny-yolked, so at the mere mention of a spoon, they ooooooze, enriching the bright, acidic tomato sauce, like adding a knob of butter. (And we all know how good adding butter to tomato sauce is.) Similarly, in England, a full breakfast usually includes fried eggs with grilled tomatoes (and sausages and mushrooms and many other things).
Here in the States, eggs and tomatoes are also breakfast buddies—the best kind of buddies. Maybe it’s scrambled eggs with ketchup (my eggs of choice when I was a wee one). Or, instead of eggs splashing around in a tomato-sauce sea or eggs and tomato halves holding hands, they are more subtle, more secretive about their love. The tomatoes are usually raw and chopped into tiny pieces. And the eggs go to great lengths to hide them. Which is to say: an American-style, browned, cheesy omelet, a staple at any divey diner across the country.
This is all well and good, but it puts a lot of pressure on the tomato, too much pressure to live up to year-round. If the tomato is as red as a fire truck and as sweet as corn, the omelet will be kisses fingertips. If it’s unripe or mealy or sad—lots of tomatoes are like this—the omelet will be sad. Which is why, if I’m ordering an omelet out, I rarely, if ever, ask for tomato. Too risky!
Shakshuka doesn’t have this problem. If tomatoes aren’t in season, canned will work just fine. That’s when I started to think: an omelet with canned tomatoes. Cook those down, down, down into a thick, jammy sauce. Tuck them into an eggy blanket. Lots of cheese because it’s not an omelet without cheese (
fact just my opinion). The result, it turned out, is less like shakshuka, and more like pizza. Pizza for breakfast! Without being, you know, pizza for breakfast.
French-style omelets are pale and tender, with custardy, practically runny curds in the center. Classically, they forgo all mix-ins. American-style omelets are bolder and brasher, with browned exteriors and all the mix-ins. The latter will be our spirit guide here.
Not just any tomato sauce will do. We need it to stay put mid-omelet, not weep all over the place like a hot mess. I started with Marcella Hazan in mind, then off-railed: I added in some olive oil and garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes. This simmers for 45 or so minutes, until it’s practically chutney.
Mozzarella! But what kind? Fresh, whole-milk mozzarella is so supple and tender, it’s easy to assume that it’s best for everything. Here, it wasn’t, yielding a watered-down omelet, like a soggy margherita. Not what we’re going for. Humble, part-skim, low-moisture—the firm kind you can grate like a potato—produces a gooey, stretchy cheese layer, like sports-bar or $1-slice or midnight-delivery pizza. Just right. And about the order: I thought that cheese first, tomato sauce second would provide another layer of soggy-bottom insurance. On the contrary! When the cheese melted into the eggs, it ruined that whole saucy, gooey, cheesy thing that pizza does so well. It became a cheesy omelet filled with tomato sauce, not an omelet filled with cheese and tomato sauce. Does that make sense? You could try it yourself, or just believe me: Tomato sauce first, cheese second, so it melts into the sauce, just like a pizza.
Because every pizza needs a crust. (Uh, what’s that?) Any bread works here. A fluffy grocery store loaf. A crusty bakery one. Warm focaccia. Fried pizza dough! How meta is that? In any case, serve the toast alongside, heap some omelet on top. Eat twice a weekend, every weekend, for months, then never again.
Makes enough sauce for 8 omelets; enough eggs and cheese for 1 (scale up as needed!)
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced or Microplaned
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 (28-ounce) can unsalted, whole, peeled tomatoes
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, roughly chopped
- 1 yellow onion, peeled and halved
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 2 large eggs
- 1 pinch kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup tomato sauce, warm or at room temperature
- 1/3 cup grated low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella
- 2 slices bread, toasted (and buttered, if you please)
What’s inside your go-to omelet? Tell us in the comments below!