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Dec 22, 2014
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SERVING SAINT LOUIS SINCE 1999
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By the Book: Michelle Tam and Henry Fong’s Uova In Purgatorio

July 26th 12:07pm, 2014

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Nutritionally speaking, can the Paleo diet really save us from ourselves? You are invited to think so. I mean really invited – strongarmed even – by the vocal, rather overheated boosterism of those espousing the movement. Admittedly, the constant pro-Paleo rhetoric is getting a bit wearisome these days, despite the slick packaging and glib explanation of its premise.

That premise is this, essentially: Homo sapiens, as a species, physiologically haven’t evolved to be able to metabolize things like grain, legumes, sugar and other omnipresent sources of sustenance in our modern, industrialized foodways complex. The logic is that eating like our pre-agriculture, hunter-gatherer ancestors (read: cavemen) will help the modern, often sedentary human to be healthier, lose weight and enjoy a longer life expectancy.

It’s a gutsy claim. Never mind that anthropologists have refuted much of Paleo’s scientific underpinnings, pointing out that nearly all the things we eat – grain, beef, nuts or otherwise – were selectively bred by humans in the first place. (On a quiet night, I can sometimes hear hoots of laughter emanating from Wash. U’s anthropology building, a few blocks from my apartment.) Still more dietitians have questioned Paleo’s ability to provide enough of the nutrients found in legumes, grains and dairy, all no-nos under the rules. Yet the movement has taken hold.

But let’s decamp from the ideology battleground and consider Nom Nom Paleo, a hip, well-curated cooking tome assembled by husband-wife duo Michelle Tam and Henry Fong: Crossfitters, card-carrying Silicon Valley-ites and parents to two young boys. Turning the pages, it’s a rather nice family affair, shot through with Paleo talking points, tasteful layouts and Fong’s gorgeous photography on matte gloss pages.

Kudos to its logistics, too. The first 40 pages are devoted to Paleo ingredients and how to procure them, and the recipes are laid out in a flow chart-esque format, not unlike a comic strip.  Indeed, the book is splashed with charming cartoon renderings of the authors and their children as they quip their way around the kitchen. As a production, this cookbook outclasses most others.

Following the Tam-Fong family’s instructions, I made Uovo in Purgatorio, a classic Italian ragu co-opted by the Paleo set. The simplicity of most Paleo dishes is on full display here; the ingredients cost less than $15, there’s minimal chopping involved, and the whole ensemble’s ready in a half-hour.

 

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The first ingredient is ghee, or clarified butter, a basic recipe laid out on a separate page. Divorcing the dairy fats from the butter makes for a high smoke-point oil that’s useful for sauteing (and is Paleo-approved). It’s easy enough to make, though lacking cheesecloth, I strained the melted butter with a coffee filter, which took a long time.

 

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The sausage will braise in the sauce, but it’s good to brown it a little beforehand.

 

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I regularly worship at the Church of Put an Egg on Top, so I welcomed the opportunity to crack a couple over the marinara-sausage ragu. Lacking four oven-safe cocottes, I used two 16-ounce Corningware dishes – which meant more eggs for me.

The pepper flakes are a nice touch here, offering robust heat without overwhelming the palate. After baking 17 minutes (two more than prescribed), I had to switch on the broiler to finish off the egg whites, which made the top surface crispy and extra good. This is a hearty, protein-rich dish that goes well with sauteed vegetables.

 

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The marinara sauce is the weak link in the recipe: It’s a Catch-22 of convenience versus quality. Store-bought marinara makes this a quick, easy option for after work or feeding kids on the go. But homemade sauce always tastes better, and since it dominates the flavor profile of the dish, is essential if serving this to more discriminating company.

 
Uova In Purgatorio
4 servings

1 Tbsp. ghee or fat of choice
½ medium yellow onion, ¼-inch dice
¼ lb. cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. loose Italian pork sausage
2 cups marinara sauce
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
4 large eggs

• Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with the rack in the upper-middle position.
• Melt the fat in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Toss in the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook 5 minutes or until the moisture released by the mushrooms evaporates.
• Add the sausage to the pan, breaking it up with a spatula. Cook until it’s no longer pink. Pour the sauce onto the meat and add the red pepper flakes. Stir to combine the ingredients, and cook until the sauce simmers.
• Divide the saucy mixture into 4 8-ounce ovenproof ramekins or mini cocottes. Makes a small well in the center of each, and crack an egg in it. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the eggs. Place the ramekins on a tray in the oven, and bake until the eggs are done to your desired consistency, about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

What fad diet dish has made regular appearances in your kitchen after you first tried it? Tell us about it in the comments section below for a chance to win a copy of Nom Nom Paleo. We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

By Garrett Faulkner

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8 Responses to “By the Book: Michelle Tam and Henry Fong’s Uova In Purgatorio”

  1. Emily Says:
    July 31st, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    Actually, I’m currently obsessed with Nom Nom Paleo’s Spicy Tuna Cakes. I could eat them every day. Twice this week already. :) And like you, I had to use a coffee filter for my ghee. Took forever, but easy enough.

  2. katie F Says:
    July 31st, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    my fad staple food is chia pudding! And putting chia in everything.

  3. Todd Dinsmoor Says:
    July 31st, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    Cauliflower rice! Any way you can cook rice I will substitute cauliflower now instead. Last night I made an Indonesian inspired pork tenderloin served over cauliflower rice seasoned with coconut aminos, fish sauce, ginger, and onion, shiitake, and red pepper! Delicious!

  4. Jennifer Carter Says:
    July 31st, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    Going meatless and using grains and beans for protein, we love
    Quinoa and black beans with tomatoes, onions and roasted chiles.

  5. Sheila Hellrung Says:
    July 31st, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    I actually really like kale. Either braised, made into chips or put into a smoothie. I have also made several of Michelle’s recipes and enjoy them and would love the book!

  6. Earen Hummel Says:
    August 1st, 2014 at 8:53 am

    I am not sure about fad dishes, but with hippie parents I grew up eating tofu, homemade granola and yoghurt, drinking unpasteurized milk, fresh sprouts. Homemade, real foods. All of which have made a re-emergence lately,

  7. Katie Says:
    August 1st, 2014 at 9:36 am

    My staple trendy food is Chia pudding! If left overnight with some almond milk (with stevia, vanilla, some cocoa is you’re in to that), it gets thick and delicious. I put dried cherries on top. I also put chia seeds in drinks (lemonades, kombucha) and in my morning green smoothie.

  8. ian Says:
    August 2nd, 2014 at 12:57 am

    Raw food— i found this recipe for raw spring rolls, and ever since we have been making springs rolls with tons of veggies and herbs rolled in salad leaves (and rice paper, a little less raw I guess) — we go to Jay’s on Grand to load up on bags of thai sweet basil& mint and bunches of cilantro and parsley — add avocado, tomatoes, carrots, cucumber ( and any other veggies you like) add some dipping sauces with garlic & ginger and it makes a delightful tasty meal

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