You say "baked egg" and people look at you like they're concerned for your wellbeing and go, "... baked egg?" And you go, "Yeah, y'know, like a shirred egg, only more Italian," and they go, "What in the damn hell is a 'shirred egg'?" And then you say, "Oh, goddammit, now I'm gonna have to write about this in my internet food column," and they nod slowly and go, "Mmm-hmm, sure, your [exaggerated finger-quotes] internet food column [close exaggerated finger-quotes]" while surreptitiously dialing the nearest inpatient psychiatric unit, sure that you have had a break with reality.
Why don't people make baked eggs? They are good! Crazily, ecstatically, ludicrously good. And fairly easy to make, too: Odds are, you probably already have like 95 percent of the ingredients in your kitchen, give or take (optional) basil and maybe some (also optional) crusty bread.
There are two problems working against baked eggs. The first is the word "baked," which conjures images of precise measurements and leavening agents and chemistry, three of the most horrifying things to imagine. Thankfully, there's none of that shit in the making of a baked egg: You spitball some tomato sauce, you crack an egg on it, and you stick it in the oven for a few minutes. And then it makes you happy for a month, and you don't even have to wash any miserable fucking measuring spoons.
The second is our rigid association of eggs with breakfast: The baked egg, though delicious, probably isn't the most breakfasty of foodstuffs, simply because it takes a bit longer to prepare than a sad bowl of nutritive breakfast mulch. Well, dammit, eggs don't have to be breakfast. The baked egg is the best way to prove that to yourself.
So, let's make a baked egg. Yes, dammit, now.
To begin, acquire tomato sauce. Now, some internet food people [stares daggers at self] will tell you to "acquire tomato sauce," as though it'd be perfectly OK for you to run out and buy a jar of Prego or whatever—but really, do yourself an act of kindness and make some tomato sauce, if you can at all. The tomato sauce is going to be the most vivid flavor in your baked egg (which might make "baked tomato sauce" seem a more fitting name for the stuff, if you're going to be a stickler about this, god why are you always such a weenie about these things), and frankly, ol' Prego isn't up for it.
Nothing fancy, here, tomato-sauce-wise. Cook a pinch of crushed red pepper, a minced half-an-onion, a pinch of salt, and a couple of anchovy fillets in a tablespoon of olive oil until the anchovies are dissolved and the onion is translucent; toss in a clove or two of minced garlic; as soon as you can smell the garlic, dump in a can of whole plum tomatoes and crush them with a wooden spoon. Bring the liquid in the pan to a boil, lower it to a simmer, and leave it alone for, oh, a half-hour, so the tomatoes can break down and get saucy.
Once the tomatoes have broken down and the liquid has thickened some and the whole thing is saucy and red and rich and you want to French kiss it, lower the heat as low as it'll go under the sauce. You just want to take the edge off the heat of the sauce, so that it won't instantly boil to doneness an egg that you crack on top of it.
There. Tomato sauce. You can proceed directly from here to making your baked egg if you like, or, if you want to have a baked egg for breakfast and don't feel as though preparing tomato sauce is within your zombified early-morning skillset, you can make the sauce the night before; all you'll need to do is warm it up in a little saucepot in the morning. (Note: If you happen to have some leftover tomato sauce in your fridge or freezer, because you make big annual batches of tomato sauce and freeze them for use the rest of the year, because you are a caricature of a mid-20th-century Italian-American who sprang to life in the 21st century and became a reader of internet food columns, this is a terrific use for your leftover tomato sauce. Again, just warm it up in a small saucepot on the stove before you proceed to the next part.)
In any case, at some point you will be ready to bake a damn egg. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
Now, look. The appearance of the word ramekin will make you want to frisbee your computer into a bog, but please do not do that. A ramekin is that little bowl in which they serve crème brûlée when literally everyone who ever lived orders it at every restaurant on earth, every time, always, forever, seriously why don't you ever try any of the other desserts, some of them are good too. Usually it is glass or ceramic, a couple inches deep; usually it has a perfectly flat bottom and its sides usually go straight up from the base, instead of sloping like those of say, a cereal bowl. That is to say, aside from its lack of a handle, a ramekin is a fucking mug. If you have a sturdy, clean, ceramic coffee mug, you have a ramekin.
Assemble a baked egg. Fill your "ramekin" most of the way with tomato sauce, leaving what, to your eyeballs and keen spacial reasoning skills, looks like enough room for you to crack an egg in there, plus a little extra space to account for all this stuff expanding slightly during cooking. Crack an egg on top of the tomato sauce. Sprinkle a modest quantity of freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on top of the egg; drizzle a bit of extra-virgin olive oil on there. Slide that "ramekin" full of food into the preheated oven and set a timer for, oh, eight minutes.
(A note, here: Depending on the thickness of your ramekin and the temperature of the tomato sauce and whether a meteor strikes your home during the cooking process, eight minutes may not be quite long enough cooking time to get the egg-white set all the way through. If you pull your baked egg out and the white seems super-duper runny, like whoa this isn't a cooked egg at all, maybe you'll want to pop it back in for another minute or two, and maybe you'll want to double-check that you remembered to turn the oven on. But, if the white is mostly set, please just leave the baked egg on the countertop for a minute and see if residual heat gets it the rest of the way on its own. A runny yolk is crucial to the whole baked-egg experience; better to err on the side of runny whites than to overcook the yolk, OK?)
Oh and also! If you should happen to have a loaf of ciabatta bread hanging around, cut a couple of slices out of it, brush these with olive oil, and sock those fuckers in the oven, too. They'll get toasty while the egg cooks. If you do not have any ciabatta bread and recoil at the notion that any real person not named "Gwyneth Paltrow" just happens to have some fuggin' ciabatta bread just hanging around their home like a starchy roommate, make some regular-ass toast in the regular-ass toaster.
When the timer goes off, haul your food out of the oven. That sure is one baked-ass egg! The white set and the cheese browned a little and you can smell it and the deep red smell of hot tomato sneaking out from under there and the whole thing immediately makes sense to you, which is to say that your hair is standing on end and your eyes are all spirally and your mouth has become a firehose of saliva. If you have some fresh basil as well as the restraint to perform another cooking step, chop some of that and sprinkle it over the "ramekin." Time to eat a baked egg.
The very nice thing about your baked egg is that, between the runny yolk and the tomato sauce, it's too liquid for eating with a fork; you really have no choice but to mount it on toast for the journey to your head. Puncture the yolk; heap some egg and tomato sauce onto the toasty bread, and cram that friggin' thing into your person. Melt. Swoon. Kiss your fingertips. Roll your eyes about like an insane person. Repeat.
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Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. Peevishly correct his foolishness on Twitter @albertburneko, or send him your creepy longform hate-missives at email@example.com. Image by Sam Woolley.