Monday, October 6, 2008

A Taste of Home

As much as I love to travel, to explore new places and find the best of their cuisine (or at least attempt it), I love coming home again even more. I could never be one of those people that sell everything and go around the world for a year; I need the safety and the calm of a home base, somewhere to retreat and recharge my batteries. Traveling makes me a bit anxious no matter how much I plan, and too much traveling in a short time really wears me out. 
In that spirit, let's take a break from these posts documenting all of our recent travel, and talk about something homey and comforting. How about eggs? 
I made these eggs a few weeks ago, between two of our trips, and I think it's time to make them again. They are technically called shirred eggs; "an egg baked or broiled in a buttered cocotte, or small dish, until the white is set and the yolk is liquid". In this case, they are baked atop a bed of creamy spinach, scented with a little nutmeg and parmesan, and after baking are topped with some garlicky breadcrumbs for crunch. They were warm and soft, homey and comforting, and just the thing to recharge the batteries. 

Shirred Eggs with Spinach
adapted from Williams-Sonoma Breakfast

The spinach could be prepared in advance and refrigerated, but baking it while still well-chilled would increase baking time. This could be gotten around by just blanching, squeezing, and chopping the spinach in advance, so the next step would warm the chopped spinach back up before baking. I used individual cocottes simply because I had them. Baking in an 8 1/2" round gratin dish or similar shallow container should take about 18-20 minutes. Adding lardons of bacon to the spinach mixture would be nice as well.

1 1/2 lbs spinach, well rinsed and stemmed
1 small onion or 2 medium shallots, finely diced 
1 Tbs unsalted butter
1/2 C heavy cream 
1/2 C freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
4 extra-large eggs
Garlicky Bread Crumbs

Fill a large saucepan 3/4 full with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Lightly salt the boiling water and then add the spinach, cooking until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Immediately drain in a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much water as possible, then chop coarsely. Preheat the oven to 350 F and butter your chosen baking dish. Place the empty saucepan back on medium heat and add the butter, then the diced onions. Cook until the onions are translucent. Add the chopped, drained spinach to the onions and cook until any excess moisture has evaporated. Stir in the cream, cheese, a pinch of salt, freshly ground pepper, and nutmeg. Cook until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and place the spinach in the prepared baking dish or portion evenly among 4 cocottes. Smooth the top of the spinach mixture, use the back of a large spoon to create 4 depressions in the spinach, then crack an egg into each. Carefully transfer the dish or dishes to the oven and bake until whites are almost set and yolk is runny, 8-20 minutes depending on baking dish size. Remove while the whites are still a little jiggly, as they will continue cooking outside the oven. Top with a few tablespoons of breadcrumbs. 

Garlicky Breadcrumbs
This is a recipe to play with. I used whole-wheat dry breadcrumbs, but you could just as easily use white or sourdough, and fresh breadcrumbs would work perfectly too.

1 Tbs unsalted butter
2 medium cloves garlic
3/4 C breadcumbs

Mince garlic very finely. Heat butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, and when melted, add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add breadcrumbs and stir to combine.  Stir often to prevent garlic from over-browning, and cook until breadcrumbs are crisp and golden brown. Use immediately or cool and store in an airtight container at room temp for up to 24 hours. 


Andrea said...

I agree with you completely, nothing says homey and comfort like eggs. They're definitely my breakfast food of choice (at least when I'm not eating all of the other breakfast foods!) These look absolutely delicious!

Tim said...

Easy and delicous

Jude said...

Mmm cute little pots for eggs. So that's what shirred eggs are... I thought it was some type of poaching.