My brunch arsenal, the dishes I’ve made enough times that they no longer cause any furrowed brows — a core entertaining principle here at House Smitten Kitchen (sigil: cast-iron skillet) — is as follows: bacon (always roasted in the oven, I mean, unless you were hoping to mist yourself with eau de pork belly*); some sort of fruit salad (either mixed berries and vanilla bean-scented yogurt or mixed citrus segments, sometimes with mint and feta); buttermilk biscuits; a pitcher of Bloody Marys, a bottle of champagne and a couple carafes of freshly-squeezed grapefruit or orange juice, blood orange whenever available; something sweet (our current favorite) and eggs. As I dictated years ago, everything that can be made in advance should be, thus pancakes, individually fried slices of French toast, omelets and even eggs baked in ramekins, adorable as they may be, are verboten. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and it’s always the worst.
In the egg category, my favorite for ease and laze is this spinach and cheese strata, however, if I have even 15 additional minutes at my disposal (which, let’s be honest, I do, especially when I spend less time here) remains these baked eggs with spinach and mushrooms. We talked about it, oh, seven years ago, but it’s been so buried in the archives, literally three recipes deep with a single hideous photo, that I’m long overdue to unearth it. At the time, I was charmed by how incredible something so wholesome could taste. These days, I’d add to its list of charms: vegetarian, gluten/grain-free, as good for a weeknight dinner as it is a weekend brunch dish, and oh, did I mention that it looks like an Easter egg basket? That’s a recent development.
For years, I made it in a skillet, which is great if you were going for a rustic one-pan meal thing. But as will happen in a tiny kitchen, when we had friends over in late January, my skillet was needed for something else so I transferred the sauteed vegetables to a giant baking dish and made deep wells of wells for each egg, dropped them in and baked the dish 30 minutes before we were going to eat for the loveliest version yet. And, hey, I realize on a list of food priorities from “needing it to survive” to “hoping it tastes good,” “making food prettier” doesn’t even rank. This is not essential stuff. But when you’re trying to convince people that two pounds of wilted spinach and one pound of sauteed mushrooms are, in fact, going to taste astoundingly good (parmesan, butter and butter help), a little extra pretty goes a long way.
* Actually, let me share the very best bacon tip I know, which Tracy from Shutterbean recently shared with me: go to the Whole Foods breakfast bar and fill a take-out container with their house bacon, which is usually organic, humanely raised and a pretty good value by weight. You can reheat it at home on a rack when needed and save yourself all sorts of greasy, smoky cleanup. You could also make your own bacon the day before and crisp it 3/4 of the way, and finish it in the oven before guests arrive.
Brunch: Dozens more recipes here.
How to Host Brunch and Still Sleep In: You know you wanna.
One year ago: Yogurt Panna Cotta with Walnuts and Honey
Two years ago: Cinnamon Toast French Toast
Three years ago: Heavenly Chocolate Cake Roll
Four years ago: Radicchio Apple and Pear Salad and New York Cheesecake
Five years ago: Bialys and Artichokes Braised in Lemon and Olive Oil
Six years ago: Shaker Lemon Pie
Seven years ago: Potato Rosemary Bread
Baked Eggs with Spinach and Mushrooms
Adapted from Gourmet, June 2004
I triple the original recipe, which makes enough for four eggs, or an lovely weeknight dinner. You can find those yields in the link above. But I’m usually making it for a crowd, and any leftovers, even though the centers of the eggs will firm up when you reheat it, are still incredible. We’re having it for dinner this week.
Serves: 6 with massive portions to 12 with regular-sized ones. How far it stretches will depend on how much other food you’re putting out, but don’t underestimate how filling one egg can big with a big scoop of all the vegetables around it.
2 pounds (32 ounces) ounces fresh baby spinach or regular spinach leaves
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
3 small garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced (I use creminis)
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (optional; I skip this)
12 large eggs
6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
If you’ve just washed your spinach, no need to dry it before wilting it in the pan. If it’s already dry, bring 1/2 inch water to a boil in a very large ovenproof heavy skillet, then add half of spinach and cook, turning with tongs, until wilted, about 30 seconds. Add remaining spinach and wilt in same manner, then cook, covered, over moderately high heat until spinach is tender, about 1 to 2 minutes. Drain in a colander and cool under cold running water. Gently squeeze handfuls of spinach to remove as much liquid as possible, then coarsely chop. You will have about 2 cups fairly tightly packed cooked spinach.
Wipe skillet dry, then melt butter over medium-low heat. Cook onion and garlic until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and increase heat to medium-high, then cook, stirring, until mushrooms have softened, exuded liquid and that liquid has cooked off, about 5 minutes. Stir in cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg (if using), and chopped spinach and bring back a simmer. Remove skillet from heat.
If baking eggs in this skillet, make 12 large indentations in mixture, each large enough to fit an egg. Otherwise, you can transfer this mixture to a 9×13-inch baking dish and do the same there. I like to use 2 teaspoons to make the wells; I press the backs of them together to “pinch” up the spinach mixture to form taller walls so that the eggs will not merge together.
Do ahead: You can then set this aside for a few hours or up to one day in the fridge, covered.
When you’re ready to bake the dish, or about 30 minutes before serving, put oven rack in upper third of oven and heat oven to 450°F. Crack an egg into each well. Bake until whites are firm and yolks are still runny. You can check this by inserting a toothpick into various parts of the eggs and seeing whether they’re runny or set, which takes anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. The range is long due to different ovens and baking vessels. It’s better to have to check more often than to let them overcook.
[Cooking note: It is nearly impossible to get all 12 eggs to cook evenly. The ones in the center will be more runny; at the edges, they’ll be more firm. But don’t fret. I’ve found that almost all people have an egg preference (more runny vs. more firm) and each egg manages to find the right home. Just ask people their preference as you serve them.]
Remove dish from oven, sprinkle with additional salt and pepper, plus grated Parmesan. Serve immediately.