I love modular meals. Does that sound a weird word to apply to cooking? Let's say mix-and-match and make-ahead. Take this breakfast recipe, for instance. It depends on a couple of pieces that you can make ahead, then assemble quickly for a hot, savory meal that wouldn't be out of place in a nice restaurant. But with 10 minutes of work you can have it for breakfast tomorrow!
One of my favorite cupboard staples is pre-cooked polenta. Yes, polenta is very easy to make yourself, but these little rolls of perfectly-cooked and sliceable polenta are also very convenient. This dish depends on a base of sliced polenta, fried in olive oil until it is crispy outside and creamy and warm inside.
Polenta is also gluten-free, which makes it a fabulous breakfast (and dinner) for those of you who are gluten-intolerant. It's my go-to starch when entertaining friends who need to avoid gluten. I love the taste, and honestly I take any excuse to eat more of it!
For this breakfast dish, I use a base of polenta, crowned with a poached egg, golden yolk ready to spill out at the lightest touch of a fork. In between the two I piled on roasted tomatoes, and delicious sautéed mushrooms with herbs. You can make both the tomatoes and the mushrooms ahead of time and just warm them in a skillet while the polenta is cooking and the eggs are poaching. Seriously — this takes less than 10 minutes.
It is such a nourishing, refreshing breakfast, full of savory mushrooms and herbs, and the bright tang of tomatoes. The yolk breaks and soaks into everything in that luscious, eggy way. Of course, if you'd like to make this vegan you can; just leave off the egg (substitute baked tofu, if you like) and the cheese. If you're not eating dairy-free or vegan, add a dab of yogurt; the creaminess sets off the tomatoes very well.
Eggy, Crispy Polenta with Tomatoes & Mushrooms
1 batch Oven-Roasted Tomato Jam
2 tablespoons butter (or olive oil, for vegan version)
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms
3 long stalks fresh thyme, leaves only
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup dry vermouth or white wine
18-ounce roll of cooked polenta
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 6 fresh large eggs
1 teaspoon white vinegar (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Plain yogurt or sour cream
Shaved Parmesan cheese
Prepare the tomatoes ahead of time and warm before adding to the dish. They are quite easy, and they take very little hands-on time (or money; they call for canned tomatoes).
To cook the mushrooms, clean them first then slice thinly. Heat the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, add the mushrooms and cook without flipping or stirring them for 5 minutes. They should smell toasty and browned and even slightly burnt. After 5 minutes or when they are very brown on the bottom, stir them up and leave them to cook deeply on the other side. Throw in the thyme leaves and sprinkle them lightly with salt and pepper.
When the mushrooms have browned deeply on both sides, add the vermouth or white wine, and turn the heat to low. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the mushrooms are tender.
Refrigerate until serving, and warm before adding to the final dish.
Slice the polenta into about 10 slices, each about 1/2-inch thick. Pat each dry as thoroughly as you can.
Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium high heat. When it is quite hot lay the polenta slices in the pan, carefully. You can do 5 at a time; it's best not to crowd the skillet. Cook the polenta for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until crispy.
Remove to a plate and keep warm.
Make as many poached eggs as you need to serve; follow these instructions for poaching an egg on the stovetop, or poach them in the microwave.
For each person you are serving, place two slices of fried polenta on the plate. Top with mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, and a poached egg or two. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and Parmesan. Place a dab of yogurt or sour cream on the side of the plate, and serve immediately with salad or fresh fruit.
(Images: Faith Durand)