The throw-together meal for when your brain is fried.
Every year, without fail, fall’s busy schedules come as a rude awakening in our house. When school starts, stuff gets real, and fast. After long, busy days, I’m greeted with hungry Tuscan Tigers who have the audacity to ask “Mommy, what’s for dinner?” It’s almost as though my answer has the potential to appease them! (News flash: it doesn’t!) In our house, there is usually a dinner plan in place for the week, since meal planning is what I do for a living. But, on the occasional weeknight when the day slips away so quickly I don’t have the faintest clue what I’m going to make for dinner, I make an egg skillet.
It’s both a pantry dinner and an “everything but the kitchen sink” meal that uses up whatever I have, and doesn’t require a trip to the store. That lingering produce from my CSA, a can of tomatoes, some eggs – whatever I’ve got – transform into a one-pan meal that the kids will actually eat. Everyone needs a tried-and-true, no-recipe recipe (thanks, Sam Sifton of The New York Times for coining that term) to cook when there are no other obvious options, and this is mine.
These days, I find it freeing to improvise in the kitchen. It’s surely something many rarely have the privilege of attempting. After all, it requires a certain type of brain power, a commonly depleted resource at the end of a busy day. When feeding kids, especially, we can’t risk creating a dish on a whim that might not be well-received. We need to have the general feeling that SOMEONE will eat it, and might even enjoy it. So, years ago, when I made shakshuka for the kids the very first time, and everyone dug right in, I stamped it in my brain that eggs simmered in a sauce of some kind is worth repeating.
With every iteration of this dish, I experiment by swapping in different produce, herbs, and spices. I’ve used mushrooms, chickpeas, white beans, kale, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, green beans, snap peas, you name it. Six cups of veggies is what I use, and I tend toward the ones that are easiest and fastest to cut up. We even have fun with crunchy toppings like seeds and nuts, cheese, and herb garnishes as we sit and eat it at the table. There may be nothing more satisfying than throwing dinner together for your hungry family, and them actually liking it. Well, maybe if it happens to be fun to make, too.
Jessica Fox owns and operates a custom meal-planning service called Cook up a Plan (cookupaplan.com). She also walks dogs for Marigold Lifeworks, assists Let’s Get
Olivia’s, and lives in Maplewood with her husband, two boys, and dog.
Vegetable Egg Skillet
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 medium or 2 small eggplants, chopped
4 to 5 scallions (or 1 small onion), chopped
1 medium bell pepper, chopped
freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin, paprika, or chile powder
3 medium tomatoes, chopped (or a 14-oz. can of diced or crushed tomatoes)
fresh basil, thyme, or oregano
6 to 8 eggs
½ cup of crumbled cheese like feta, cotija, or ricotta salata
crusty bread for serving
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high. Add the zucchini, eggplant, scallions, and bell pepper, and season with plenty of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to stick to the pan, about 6-8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cumin (or whatever spices you’re using) for a minute or two until fragrant and the vegetables are coated.
Stir in the tomatoes and cook for another 6-8 minutes until they are mostly broken down, stirring occasionally. Add any fresh herbs, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer 3-5 minutes, until the sauce thickens slightly. Taste and season the mixture with salt and pepper.
Using a spoon, make gentle divots in the vegetable mixture. Carefully crack an egg into each divot, spacing them out around the skillet.
Cover the pan with a lid, and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until the egg whites are set, but the yolks are still runny. Remove the skillet from the heat. Sprinkle the eggs with salt and pepper, any more fresh herbs you’d like, and the crumbled cheese. Serve with an extra drizzle of olive oil over the top, and crusty bread on the side if you’d like. Enjoy!