For this month’s Fork and Flick, it’s back to the 80’s and the charm of Italian American families of the time. “The moon is a little like love…sometimes it makes you act a little crazy” and Moonstruck tells this story like no other. Set in Brooklyn “where the full moon makes the night like day and drives people crazy with amore, when the moon-a hits their eyes like a big-a pizza pie.” The soundtrack is equal parts “La Boheme” and Dean Martin.
I was never really into Cher and had never seen Moonstruck, a 1987 romantic comedy that was nominated for 6 Oscars. Cher won the best actress award for her portrayal of thirty-seven-year-old Loretta Castorini, a Sicilian-American widow and accountant in Brooklyn Heights, who finds herself in a difficult situation when she falls for the brother of the man she has agreed to marry.
As famous and popular as Cher has been, I think I was too young at the height of her career, so somehow I missed this critically acclaimed film. I recently caught it on TV and my current more matured palate was much more open to the film and its Italian essence. Moonstruck powerfully conveys the atmosphere and, of course, food of an Italian American neighborhood in New York with pivotal conversations occurring in Italian restaurants and the kitchen being where all important announcements and decisions are made.
There’s the almost constant presence of food, sometimes, as an excuse for family dialogues and one-liners. Nicolas Cage as a half-crazy, opera-loving baker, “They say bread is life,” he shouts to Loretta upon their first meeting. “And I bake bread, bread, bread. And I sweat and shovel this stinkin’ dough in and out of this hot hole in the wall, and I should be so happy! Huh, sweetie?” Food as a prelude to lovemaking with Cher rowing with Nic for his stubborn pride five minutes after they meet as she sizzles a steak on the stove “bloody to feed your blood.” The final scene at breakfast in the Castorini kitchen, a furious Rose fixes oatmeal for the family and Loretta hiding from her intended in a closet puts the fun back in dysfunctional. Moonstruck, captures the spirit of the Italian-American household with a story about love, life, passion, and strong family bonds.
Moonstruck Eggs – Eggs in a Nest
When it comes to mentionable edibles in this film, I think the most famous is the breakfast scene, when Olympia Dukakis, playing Loretta’s mother Rose, whips up a simple yet extraordinarily appealing breakfast. She fries, soft-yolked eggs cooked in the open centers of thick-sliced, crusty Italian bread. She served it with some read peppers that she cooked up alongside. It’s a beautiful scene from the sounds of the sizzling eggs to the spatula scraping the cast iron pan. You just have to watch it to understand.
Soon after this movie came out this breakfast became “Moonstruck Eggs” and quite popular at brunch. In Italy this dish is known as “birds in a nest”. They are super simple and they make a big impression for that special Saturday or Sunday morning. The eggs take on a new dimension cooked in a little olive oil, and you have to try it if you never have. Pour a little olive oil in a pan and brown one side of bread, flip it over when browned, break an egg in the center and pair it with a sliver of stewed tomato or peppers.
Eggs in Purgatory
The English call this sort of eggs cooked in the center of a slice of bread toad’s in a hole – don’t ask me why. I made something similar to this a while back – Egg Toast. There seems to be this type of dish in several cultures. As I scoured the internet for this recipe, I learned there are as many versions of this combination as there are Sicilian grandmothers. Some, made with spicy tomato sauce instead of plain tomato, are colorfully termed Eggs in Purgatory.
Called Eggs in Purgatory because the eggs rest on top of a bed of fiery tomato sauce. In the Catholic religion purgatory is a place or state in which the souls of the recently deceased are made pure through suffering before going to heaven. Not hell, but a much lesser, temporary version of it, where sinners in God’s grace must pass through before being allowed through the pearly gates.
I could have gone with the original version depicted in the film, but what could be more appropriately uplifting than a dish that celebrates hell, or the imminent threat of it, while watching a film about Catholic Italian Americans with major themes of love and death. There is consistent dialogue about death through out the film and subliminally given in the sentimentality of opera, specifically through Puccini’s La Bohème, which continues the two themes of the film. Love, like an antidote to death, is the cornerstone in Moonstruck. If you need an example of what alchemy is about, Moonstruck has a certain magical quality that is reflected in the title itself, and shows nature itself conspire with lovers to bring about their happiness.
If you haven’t already, it’s worth whipping up some comfort food, like Eggs in Purgatory, to cozy up with Moonstruck.
Eggs in Purgatory
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
½-1 Tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 14oz. can Hunts Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes, undrained
1 10oz. can RO*TEL Chunky Tomatoes & Chiles, undrained
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
To make it easier – you could use fresh chunky salsa rather than the above ingredients
1-4 large eggs
2 Tablespoons parsley, chopped
Crusty bread, toasted, for dipping
In a large skillet, heat oil on medium heat. If using salsa pour salsa into skillet and allow it to heat up enough so that you will be able to fry an egg. If not using salsa, add onion and cook 6-7 minutes until they’re translucent. Add jalapeno, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook 1 minute, until fragrant.
Add both cans of tomatoes, cumin, parsley salt, and pepper. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer about 15 minutes. Using a spoon, create indentations in the tomatoes. Crack an egg in each indentation, cover, and cook another 5 minutes or so, or until egg white are set and the yolk is still runny.
Toast slices of crusty bread and place them on plates and spoon an egg and desired amount tomato sauce on top of the bread.
Just about every country in the world seems to have some version of this dish, I gave it a bit of Spanish spin (Eggs in Spanish Purgatory) because I figure that you have plenty of Italian versions to refer to starting with Nigella Lawson’s beautiful Eggs in Purgatory. So, I thought why not simplify it and also give you a quick alternative. If you liked this, perhaps you will want to join me Sunday as I give ode to Rose’s invitations to Oatmeal and bake Oatmeal Biscuits served with Cinnamon Butter. How wholesome is that?!