Acquacotta, an Italian bread soup from Maremma in southern Tuscany, is simply Shakshuka with an Italian accent. Stale bread, cooked onions, and chiles are stewed with tomatoes. On top are perched poached eggs and Parmesan cheese.
Similar to shakshuka, this Italian riff on a classic dish of slowly cooked eggs sunken in sauce of some sort features a rich onion and tomato broth and a slice of Tuscan bread at the bottom of each bowl. Comforting at breakfast, lunch, dinner, or anytime of day.–Angie Zoobkoff
WHAT IS ACQUACOTTA?
First off, acquacotta means “cooked water” which really doesn’t give you much to go on, does it? Coming from the coastal Maremma region of southern Tuscany, acquacotta is a rustic peasant food that dates back to the Middle Ages. More importantly, it’s a delicious way to use what you have, specifically bread that has seen softer days. Smothered with simmered tomatoes and onions, and topped with creamy eggs seem like a stale slice’s dream come true.
- 2 pounds, 3 ounces fresh ripe tomatoes or 1 pound 12 ounces (800 grams) canned whole, peeled tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 to 3 (26 oz) yellow onions
- 1/2 celery stalk finely chopped
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 freshly chopped red chile pepper or 1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
- 4 cups store-bought or homemade vegetable stock or water
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 large eggs
- 4 slices day-old Tuscan bread (or any crusty white loaf of bread; if your bread is fresh gently bake it in a low oven until dry but not browned)
- About 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese
- If you’re using fresh tomatoes, set a medium pot filled with water over high heat, and bring to a boil. Fill a medium bowl halfway with ice water. Using the tip of a sharp knife, make a small cross on the bottom of the ripe tomatoes. Plunge the tomatoes into the boiling water for about 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove the tomatoes and plunge them into a bowl of ice-cold water until cool enough to handle. The tomato skins should be very easy to slip off. Chop the tomatoes into quarters and remove the watery seeds. Toss the seeds and skins into the compost. Chop the rest of the tomatoes into dice and set aside. If you’re using canned tomatoes, dump them in a large bowl and use your hands, a wooden spoon, or a potato masher to break them up.
- In a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven set over low heat, warm the oil. Add the onions and celery along with a good pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, 15 to 20 minutes.
- Increase the heat to medium, add the white wine, and simmer until slightly reduced, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Stir in the tomatoes. Add another pinch of salt and the chile, if using. Pour in half the stock or water and bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down to low and let it cook gently and slowly, uncovered, for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. The liquid should reduce to a nice, rather thick consistency, but there should still be enough liquid to be able to poach the eggs in it. If necessary, top with the rest of the stock or water.
- Taste for seasoning and, if necessary, add salt or pepper. If a smoother consistency is desired, you can use an immersion blender to gently purée it a little.
- Crack 1 egg into a small bowl. Use the back of a spoon to make a small indentation in the onions and tomatoes, bring the bowl close to the surface of the simmering sauce, and carefully tip the egg into the well. Repeat with the remaining eggs, being careful not to situate the eggs too close together. Poach the eggs until the whites are cooked but the yolks are still soft and runny, 4 to 6 minutes. (Or, if you prefer your egg yolks firm, spoon some sauce over the top of the yolks.) You may need to increase the heat ever-so-slightly to keep the sauce gently simmering. When the eggs are done to your liking, remove the pot from the heat.
- Place a slice of bread at the bottom of each bowl. With a ladle, carefully scoop out the poached eggs one by one and place each on a slice of bread. Scoop out more sauce and ladle it around the egg. The bread will soak up any excess liquid. Sprinkle each dish with grated cheese and let it sit for a minute or two before serving.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
I'll be adding this acquacotta to my list of easy comfort food. I loved the simplicity of the fresh-tasting soup. The sweet and tender onions play a major role in the overall flavor—the dish surprisingly benefits from the absence of garlic or herbs, allowing the delicate creamy eggs to come through. Paired with rustic bread, it's satisfying without being heavy.
My ciabatta bread was pretty fresh, so I put the slices in my toaster and set it at the lowest setting (the bread didn’t brown at all; it just got a little dry, just like stale bread). The bottom of the yolks were more cooked than the top from the heat of the soup. Next time I’ll cover the pot so that the eggs will poach faster and more evenly.
One of the best ways to really get to know the cuisine of a region is to spend time making their most rustic recipes. These recipes, no matter the country, have stood the test of time, are usually made with simple, quality ingredients and are oh-so-comforting. This Tuscan recipe for a simple acquacotta-tomato ragout served over stale bread with poached eggs and a sprinkling of cheese - is just that...and more. After you make a recipe like this, you can understand the mind of being in an Italian kitchen: use what ingredients that you have on hand, waste nothing, and the idea that simplicity is best.
We really enjoyed this dish because of its simple flavors and rusticity. I was drawn to this recipe not only because I love anything tomato-y but also because I had all of the ingredients already either in my pantry or in the fridge. I had bought a nice Tuscan boule earlier in the week, which was the perfect bread to use here. I also had a 28-ounce can of whole, peeled tomatoes in the pantry and a box of organic vegetable stock, and my favorite cheese, pecorino Romano, is always in the fridge. Duck eggs work very well in this dish if you have them for their extra-large size.
I kept the pairings for this meal simple as well. A glass of Chianti and pan-seared fish fillets flavored with a touch of olive tapenade served over peppery greens. The only other thing I would recommend sprinkling on top besides the cheese would be some freshly chopped basil.
Originally published September 24, 2018