The old woman in Diego Velázquez’s 1618 painting Old Woman Cooking Eggs is lean and gaunt. But her bony hands deftly handle the frying pan in which she prepares her mid-day meal–perhaps her only meal of the day–of eggs fried in olive oil with garlic, pimento and onion. The peasant boy looking on offers her a melon and a jug of wine, lush accompaniments to an otherwise austere meal.
Velázquez frequently used working-class characters in his early paintings, and his penchant for detail brings to life the daily rituals of his subjects, as in Old Woman Cooking Eggs. We can see the woman’s everyday plates, pans and cutlery. We can almost hear her eggs sputtering in the oil. Velázquez’s painting invites us to share the peasant woman’s meal, tempting us with details of its dignified simplicity.
Should you wish to prepare the Spanish eggs of Velázquez’s painting, try the following recipe. It follows the basic recipe of eggs fried with onion and pimento, but adds tomatoes and bell peppers for a touch of freshness.
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 green bell peppers, seeded and chopped
4 ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped pimento
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat and saute the peppers and onion until tender but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and saute 5 minutes. Add the pimento, season with salt and pepper and simmer until slightly thickened, about 3-5 minutes.
In a separate pan, fry the eggs in olive oil, until yolks are firm.
Spoon the vegetable mixture onto a large serving platter and top with fried eggs. Serve with fresh melon and a crusty, white bread.