My Family Puts Hard-Boiled Eggs In Our Red Sauce. Does Anyone Else Do This?

food, my family puts hard-boiled eggs in our red sauce. does anyone else do this?

My Family Puts Hard-Boiled Eggs In Our Red Sauce. Does Anyone Else Do This?

For as long as I can remember, my family has been putting hard-boiled eggs in our red sauce. Normally on Sundays or holidays, we gather around the table and fill our bowls with pasta and sauce that’s been bubbling away in a pot for hours. While some families fight over the meatballs, we fight over the eggs.

The eggs are a little overcooked. They are transported from hot water to ice water, stripped of their shells, and then simmered in sauce. The slightly chalky yolk crumbles into the sauce, and the cooked white is stained red for a few millimeters. They are a creamy, protein-filled addition to the meal. It adds a surprising richness.

Despite its popularity in my family, I’d never heard of anyone else adding hard-boiled eggs to their pasta sauce. Not people of Italian heritage, or more specifically Sicilian heritage, which my family is—no one. I googled”hard-boiled eggs in tomato sauce” and found some recipes for cracked eggs simmered in sauce and hard-boiled eggs cooked in a vegetable-based sauce. But nothing like what my family does.

I was once told—or so I think I was—that this was a leftover habit from the Great Depression. When meat was too expensive, hard-boiled eggs were used in place of meatballs. I figured the tradition had evolved, and we now just add it to any tomato sauce, regardless if there’s meat in it.

My great-grandfather immigrated from rural Sicily to the Buffalo, NY, area in the mid-1910s. With this in mind, I searched for evidence of other Italian Americans doing this. I looked to experts in the field of Italian immigration and culinary traditions. I reached out to food historians, Great Depression historians, and scoured the What America Eats database on culinary traditions from that era.

The responses I received varied. Some people pointed to the Italian dish eggs in purgatory, but those eggs aren’t boiled, they’re poached. Others pointed to a rolled and stuffed meat dish called braciole that can sometimes include boiled eggs, or timpano (like from the film Big Night), but I knew those weren’t the same thing. The expert consensus was: “I have to admit that I’ve never heard that one,” as one of my sources said.

Countless money-saving cooking techniques were used during the Great Depression that were never documented. “This doesn’t remotely mean your family was the only one doing it,” said Helen Zoe Viet, a food historian and professor at Michigan State University who served as director for the What America Eats project. “That sort of unconventional and thrifty move was exactly the sort of practice that didn’t often make it into mainstream cookbooks,” she continued.

Slightly frustrated by the lack of information I was finding, I returned to the source—my grandmother.

“When I was growing up, if we had pasta on Friday, you didn’t have meat because you’re not supposed to eat meat,” she said, referring to her Catholic faith. “So they would boil eggs and have eggs in the sauce instead of meat.”

I called up my Great Aunt Carm, my grandfather’s brother, for more info. Her answer was much simpler. “It tasted good,” she said with a laugh. “In fact, when you sent me this text, I was with some friends. I told them about it, and they all looked at me like, ‘Are you kidding? You put hard-boiled eggs?’ Yes. I said yes.”

But, yes, it was a thrifty way to bulk up the sauce, she explained. “I think the whole origin of it was the protein because they couldn’t afford the meat,” she said. “So instead, they threw in eggs to compensate.”

Both my grandmother and Aunt Carm said that they remember other Italian American families doing this. So I shot one last arrow of desperation to a few Italian organizations in the Buffalo area—and jackpot.

“We do it all the time,” said Peter LoJacono, president of the Federation of Italian American Societies of Western New York. “Our family loves hard-boiled eggs in the sauce.”

When I asked him about its origins, he said, “It did probably flourish during the Depression, and that gave us a whole new kind of meaning, but I don’t think that was where it started. I think it was something that came from [Sicily] and was brought here.”

He told me to google “uova sode in salsa di pomodoro,” Italian for hard-boiled eggs in tomato sauce. I found many recipes for the dish, all in Italian. So it does exist, just not on English websites.

“My family still puts hard-boiled eggs—which my family fights over—in our sauce,” said Toni Marie Di Leo, director of education and membership at the Centro Culturale Italiano di Buffalo. “It is traditional in our family.” Both her family and her husband’s immigrated from Sicily to Buffalo.

“Because the family has gotten so big, we go to my son’s big house on Sunday,” said Joe Di Leo, Toni’s husband. “It’s us, it’s his kids, our grandchildren, great grandchildren. Over 20 of us will have it every Sunday at his place.”

That sounded like my family. The ever-growing table of siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. Everyone fighting over the hard-boiled eggs because my mom only made a dozen, which is somehow never enough. Too much food and not enough time for wine-fueled conversations. That is my family.

Maybe every family has a version of hard-boiled eggs in tomato sauce. Maybe it came from blurry origins and no one around the table really knows the truth. But like my Aunt Carm said, it just tastes really good.

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