If you watch the video snippet above, you'll enjoy the scene from Moonstruck where Olivia Dukakas' character makes Uova nel Cestino (Eggs in a Trashcan) for breakfast for herself and Cher's character. The simple method of tearing a hole in some slices of Italian bread and frying up some eggs in the holes is classic... a peasant food, a food for the lower-working class, but it's also a very pleasant food. The appearance of it in Moonstruck has also made it an Italian-American classic, if not totally of Italian origin.
But the history of this rustic dish seems relatively modern. There are various names for basically the same dish--slices of bread with round holes or squares cut from the center and eggs dropped in the hole for frying. They can be called by many names:
Eggs in a Basket, Eggs in a Box, Toad in a Hole, Gashouse Eggs, Spit in the Ocean, Egg in a Frame, Eggs Looking at You, One-Eyed Jacks, Bullseye, Hen in a Nest, Hobo Eggs or Hole in One.
Update November 10, 2015: Thanks to many of Grand Voyage Italy's Facebook friends, they've come up with additional names that their own families have for this dish...
Bullseye, Holey Eggs, Eyeball Eggs, Chicken in a Basket, Framed Eggs, One-Eyed Susie's, Framed Eggs, One-Eyed Pete, Egg in a Hole, Eggs in a Hat and Eggy in a Basket.
These eggy delights have also been seen being made in films other than Moonstruck: Mary Jane's Pa (1935, causing it sometimes to be called Guy Kibbee Eggs); Moon Over Miami, (1941--which named this dish either Betty Grable's Eggs or Gashouse Eggs); and in the 2005 film V for Vendetta. Even the TV show Friends had a character making this dish.
In the little bit of research I've done, it seems that there is some version of these eggs--using the various names--not only in most parts of our country, but also in many European countries. I believe it was truly a peasant food that came to America with immigrants from all sorts of countries, which is why there are so many different names and variations in the method of cooking and ingredients. For instance, if you watch the Moonstruck video clip carefully, you'll see that there was also pickled pimentos added to the dish.
Here's how I made mine:
A single egg for each bread "nest" you are making
3/4 - 1" thick slices of a crusty Italian Pane di Casa or Country Round bread (or Challah).
Olive oil for brushing the bread
Butter and Olive Oil for the fry pan (use a mix of the two for browning)
One 2-1/2" round cookie cutter (or use an upturned small jar)
An Italian spice mix (either a commercial one or a mix of garlic powder, dried basil and dried oregano)
For "sunny side up" (You might want a lower flame for this):
For "over easy" eggs:
I served the Uova nel Cestino with a couple of country sausages and a side of home fries. We also had some home made tomato ketchup that went well with the bread and eggs, but to keep the Italian theme, ,a nice marinara would work really well. To finish our brunch we each had a refreshing small serving of Lisa's home made ricotta with fruit and honey.
And here are another two other delicious looking versions of Eggs in a Basket by Cookbook author, Camille Orrichio Loccisano. The first rustic version, with the addition of marinara with a dash of fresh chopped basil, really wets my Italian appetite. For the second version, the "nest" is created by scooping out holes in individual brioche rolls.
Below the photos is the recipe for her Brioche Nest Eggs from her cookbook, Foodships: Living Life...One Recipe at a Time available on Amazon. I strongly suggest you pick up a copy (it's also available for Kindle), but not just for the recipes. Camille weaves the recipes around her life, her neighborhood, her friends and the sad loss of her teenage son. In fact, the cookbook was inspired by a recipe that was her son's favorite. "Living Life... One Recipe at a Time" isn't just the name of a cookbook. It's a philosophy of how to live past whatever life throws at us using great food as the means of forward motion. Brava, Camille!
From Foodships: Living Life...One Recipe at a Time...
4 round dinner rolls
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup basil, chopped
4 jumbo large eggs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 sun-dried tomatoes, diced
Parmigiano-Reggiano grated cheese
Slice off top of each dinner roll. Carefully remove the inside of the bread to create a hollow, making sure the bottom of the roll remains intact. Spread the softened butter on the inside of each roll. Grate the garlic cloves so that the garlic falls into the hole of each dinner roll. Sprinkle in half the basil. Crack an egg into each dinner roll. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Add a teaspoon of diced sun-dried tomato and sprinkle with the remaining basil. Top with a generous amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. On a baking sheet, bake in a preheated oven at 350°F for 17 minutes or until bread is toasted golden at the edges.
Camille’s Tip: Use eggs and butter that are room temperature, unless a recipe specifically calls for cold.
In the end, no matter what you call it, you really have to try making Eggs in a Basket. It is very rustic, completely satisfying, kids will love making it--and eating it, and there are many ways you can put your own spin on it regardless of your ethnic heritage.
Copyright 2015, Jerry Finzi - All Rights Reserved