Some people are really difficult to buy gifts for. Maybe they already own everything you can think of getting them, or they are the type who lacks a sense of materialism, or fascination with "stuff." Maybe you pick out clothes for their birthdays and gift cards at holiday time, but what about when you just want to say, "thank you." Sometimes the words are not enough to express your appreciation, and you wish for the perfect little gift to demonstrate how you feel.
I have come through with some creative gifts for my husband, Mike, but I often run into this problem, especially when I want to give him something "just because." It happened this week. I racked my brain in vain trying to come up with the right token of love, but my thoughts kept coming back to the same thing - food. I finally gave in, and decided to make Mike a special Saturday breakfast. I call it breakfast because it is my first meal of the day. Mike calls it lunch because it is rarely eaten before noon. I shopped for the ingredients on my lunch hour on Friday, and told Mike that I would be making him something special and was touched by how happy he was. I have the hardest time suprising him, because I usually get too excited to keep anything a secret. Early on Saturday morning, I told him what I was making, and he handily determined that the bottle of Australian rosé we had in the refrigerator would be a nice accompaniment. I love giving gifts when it is just as much fun as receiving one myself.
The excellent September issue of Gourmet had a couple gorgeous egg dishes, and I chose the Romaine- and Egg-Stuffed Tomatoes with Pancetta for this special breakfast. Show me a new way to combine runny eggs and a pork product, and I am a very happy cook. Gourmet claimed that these lovely tomatoes with pesto and eggs on a bed of sautéed romaine would take an hour and a half, start to finish. I changed the order of some of the steps in the simple recipe and had us eating this impressive dish no more than one hour after I began cooking.
The store had run out of pancetta, so I substituted regular bacon which worked fine. Start by washing your lettuce and parsley, then remove the spines from the lettuce and add it to the food processor along with the parsley, garlic, cheese, salt, pepper and olive oil. My damp greens contributed some moisture, and I found that I needed to add only 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil instead of the huge 1/2 cup that the original recipe calls for. Once the pesto is made, slice the tops off the tomatoes, scoop out the flesh and seeds and fill each one with a generous tablespoon of pesto. I did not want to break any of the egg yolks or get bits of shell inside my tomatoes, so I cracked each one into a ramekin and tipped them into the tomatoes one by one. Once the eggs were safely in the oven, I cooked the bacon, then sauteed the lettuce ribs and some extra leaves in a bit of the bacon fat. I made 3 eggs to serve two people, but you can easily alter this as you see fit.
Romaine Pesto- and Egg-Stuffed Tomatoes with Bacon
This recipe makes enough pesto for 6-8 tomatoes. Freeze the leftovers so you can make this meal even more quickly another time.
2 romaine lettuce hearts
2 cloves garlic
½ c. loosely packed parsley leaves
¼ c. Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for garnish
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 tblsp. extra virgin olive oil
3-4 large tomatoes (about 3 inches in diameter)
3-4 large eggs at room temperature
6 slices bacon
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash and trim the lettuce, then the cut the leaves away from the ribs. Reserve the ribs and tear the leaves into 2 inch pieces. Turn on your food processor and add the garlic to finely chop. Turn it off and add the three-quarters of the romaine leaves, the parsley, cheese, salt and pepper. Pulse until finely chopped. With the processor running pour in the olive oil.
Trim the tops off of the tomatoes, loosen the flesh with a paring knife and pull out the insides with your hand. Get as much of the juice and seeds out as you can. Set the tomatoes in a baking dish and fill each one with a generous tablespoon of pesto. Crack an egg into a small ramekin or bowl and tip it into one of the tomatoes. Repeat with remaining eggs. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on top and bake in the upper third of the oven for 18-22 minutes or until the eggs are set to your liking.
While the eggs are in the oven, cook six strips of bacon in a nonstick or cast iron skillet. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate and add the lettuce ribs and the remaining leaves to the rendered bacon fat in the skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the ribs are soft, about 3-5 minutes. Season the lettuce with salt and pepper and arrange on serving plates. Crumble the bacon and sprinkle over the lettuce. Place one or two tomatoes on each plate, sprinkle with a bit more grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.
Earlier in the morning, I made a fresh loaf of Irish soda bread (see the recipe here) with Irish Wholemeal Flour that I just ordered from King Arthur Flour's online catalogue. It has a coarse quality that gave the quickbread a wonderful, rustic texture and nutty flavor.
We both loved the baked eggs which made a striking presentation on the bed of sautéed romaine. I am glad Mike is so hard to shop for because a special breakfast is absolutely my favorite kind of gift to give.