Many of us have been indulging ourselves a lot through the pandemic period of quarantine with favorite comfort foods, paying scant attention to saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and other alimentary bad-boys that make eating as worthwhile as they make it dangerous. But it shouldn't follow that the only comfort food is something that is a coronary waiting for a place to happen.
One of my favorite comfort foods is poached eggs. They can be served up any way from simply seasoned with salt and pepper to nestled on a toasted Holland rusk (or English muffin) that's topped with sautéed Canadian bacon or aged ham, then lavishly blanketed under a fluffy, lemony hollandaise. But my hands-down favorite is uova alla fiorentina.
I first had this lovely dish in the city for which it is named, at a little café in the middle of the celebrated piazza della signoria. Two perfectly poached eggs were nestled on a bed of spinach that had been sautéed in olive oil and topped with a mellow tomato sauce.
There are dozens of recipes for this dish in its home town, not all of which are made with poached eggs. And that's without getting into the French versions, in which the spinach is either creamed or cooked in butter and the covering is a rich Sauce Mornay.
But first impressions, with food, often remain our strongest ones, and I still prefer the one that I had on that cool autumn day so many years ago.
Uova alla Fiorentina
Over the years, I've made it my own, adding scallions to the spinach instead of flavoring the oil by first sautéing a whole clove of garlic and removing it before adding the spinach to the pan. I also finish the spinach with a light sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and top the finished dish with another spoonful of cheese.
This makes one serving. If you're cooking for two, simply double everything.
Take out two eggs and let them come to room temperature. If you're pressed for time, set them (still in their shells) in a bowl and cover them with the hottest water from the tap that you can manage. Let them stand in the water two to three minutes and drain. Warm a soup plate with hot water. Bring about two inches of water to a boil in a covered saucepan, and in a separate pan or in the microwave, warm about a quarter to a third of a cup of tomato sauce and have it ready.
Blanch eight-to-ten ounces of spinach (or thaw a ten-ounce package of frozen spinach) and squeeze out, but save, most of its moisture. Thinly slice two small scallions or one medium green onion, keeping the white and green parts separated.
Film a nine-inch skillet with olive oil and put in the white parts of the scallions. Set it over medium heat and sauté until they're translucent and softening but not colored. Add the spinach and green parts of the scallions and sauté, stirring often, until the spinach is hot and tender, adding the reserved moisture as needed by spoonfuls if it gets too dry. Season it well with kosher or sea salt, a few liberal grindings of pepper, and a light grating of nutmeg. Remove it from the heat, stir in a spoonful or so of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Dry the warmed soup plate and spread the prepared spinach over the bottom.
When the saucepan of water is beginning to boil, add a spoonful of white wine vinegar and, one at a time, break the eggs into a small bowl and slip them into the pan. If you tip the bowl right at the surface of the water, the egg will slip in and roll over on itself as it falls through the hot water, helping it to shape. When they start to set, gently turn them over with a slotted spoon. Simmer two minutes, lift them from the water with the slotted spoon, and drain thoroughly before laying them on top of the bed of spinach.
Sprinkle the eggs lightly with salt and a grinding of pepper, then spoon enough hot tomato sauce over them to suit your own tastes. Sprinkle the whole with a spoonful or so of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and enjoy.