In Freudian terms, the concept of brunch is pretty much all id, an edible opportunity to get just what you want, when you want it. Sweet or savory, breakfast versus lunch? Why even decide among those options, when you can have a little bit of everything, possibly on the same plate? Pleasure principles abound, with little attention paid to nutrition or the actual capacity of one’s stomach: yes, I’ll have the Belgian waffles, please. With sausage and a side of eggs and enough coffee to float Columbia’s GNP, thankyouverymuch. And I want it now!
Sleep through your alarm and brunch will wait for you, patiently, all the way through mid-afternoon. Sweets (doughnuts, syrups, pastries, cakes!) are incorporated into the meal itself, rather than chastely tacked on at the end as an oh I couldn’t possibly show of restraint. And we’ve already discussed the glory that is the Bloody Mary, but if drinking at noon isn’t id-driven enough for you, perhaps crisping through a vertiginous pile of bacon will do the trick.
I was mulling all this over last Saturday while waiting for a table to open up at Dottie’s True Blue Café, an institution of a breakfast joint in San Francisco. (I highly recommend the lamb sausage omelet special and the pecan sticky roll, provided you can handle the heroin-addled Tenderloin environs, the touristas and the is-this-really-worth-it wait.) Saturday’s gang included myself, my husband (in a somewhat rare brunch showing; his id doesn’t like to wait for breakfast), and two newly minted friends-in-line, Kaci and Michelle, whom we’d invited to share our four-top once we all scuttled to the head of the line. It was a warming meal with charming folks, though it’s pretty hard to not feel contented with a tummy full of warm ginger-and-cardamom kissed pancakes. (We’ll let the Freudian anaylsis alone for now and just say the pancakes were really tasty.)
It got me thinking, though. Unless you’re an adept short-order cook and can handle a dozen omelets at once (don’t look at me, the not-waiting-for-breakfast husband is in charge of those at our house), preparing brunch for a big group of friends (or even a small group of weekend guests) can prove to be a little tricky. Nobody wants to wake up at the crack of dawn to get everything prepared for a party (my id likes to sleep in), and why tether yourself to the stove when you could be hanging out with your pals and that Bloody Mary?
This recipe (inspired by Julia Child’s much more glamorous-sounding Oeufs En Cocotte) proves to be the perfect brunch fix. It’s a sort of a no-brainer version of Eggs Florentine, with the same silky textures (sunny yolks, touch of cream) and mineral, savory notes (spinach, shallots, garlic), prepared without having to master your poaching technique or fuss with a hollandaise sauce. And you can make as many eggs at once as you have ramekins and room in your oven.
For that hypothetical weekend guest, if you sauté some extra greens with your roast chicken for dinner the night before, you’ll be way ahead of the game for breakfast the next day. You can even prep the rest of the dish and come morning, all you’ll have to whip up is toast.
Well, and that pile of bacon. Don’t forget the bacon.
Ramekin-Baked Eggs with Spinach and Cream
Adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking; serves six
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 C shallots, minced
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 4 C baby spinach, packed
- 6 large or extra-large eggs, room temperature
- 6 T cream
- up to 2 Tbsp butter, divided (plus more for greasing ramekins)
- Grated parmesan for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a cold pan, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil with the garlic and shallots over medium heat, for about 2 minutes. Add a handful of spinach and toss; continue adding the spinach until it’s all lightly wilted, no more than five minutes. Take off heat and let cool.
Press out any excess moisture from the spinach, and divide evenly among six lightly greased ramekins. Pour one tablespoon of cream over each ramekin. Crack an egg into each and season with pepper. Lightly dot each egg mixture with a bit of butter.
Place ramekins in a cake pan or on a baking sheet. Bake for about 15-18 minutes (turning the tray halfway through) until the whites are jiggly but mostly set and the yolks are still runny (the eggs will continue to cook after you remove them from the oven, so err on the side of underdone). Sprinkle with grated parmesan and serve with toast points for dipping into the yolks.
Note: the spinach can be prepared a day or two in advance and the egg dish can be assembled ahead; let the prepped eggs warm up to cool room temperature before baking. The baked eggs may still be slightly underdone, so you’ll want to avoid any risk of salmonella by using farm-fresh eggs, and not serving this dish to very little kids or folks with suppressed immune systems, including pregnant mamas and elderly guests.