While on vacation last week I read "The Man Who Ate Everything" by the venerable Mr. Jeffrey Steingarten, longstanding food critic for Vogue magazine (and occasional Iron Chef America judge). He devotes the entire first chapter to an 11 month period in his life when he was obsessed with baking le pain au levain naturel, a naturally leavened bread from France. And I mean obsessed - every week or two he would have giant 50lb bags of freshly milled flour shipped from California to his New York City apartment just for making bread.
Anyway, according to Jeffrey (yes, we're on a first-name basis now), there are two kinds of people in the world: those who can survive happily on bread alone, and those who also require meat, vegetables, and dairy. I used to think I would be placed firmly in the latter group, but now that I've started baking my own bread, I think I might belong in the former.
This beautiful boule was produced using Mark Bittman's ridiculously simple no-knead bread recipe, which I highly recommend for the beginning baker such as myself. And yes, that crust is as gorgeously thick and crunchy as it looks. You could probably hear us eating it from the driveway.
Of course, you don't need to bake your own bread to make this recipe (another adapted from the Smitten Kitchen, which had been adapted from the one-and-only Martha Stewart), and I never had before today - but if you have the time, I highly recommend it (the time required is largely for rising, not labor). Otherwise you can use a nice crusty loaf of country bread or whatever looks and smells nice and fresh from your bakery.
This is one of my all-time favorite make-anytime recipes, although I usually make it for weekend brunch. For dinner it's lovely served with a crunchy little green salad and French vinaigrette. You can either keep the yolks runny or cook until set, it's very easy to control and comes together in under half an hour with very little hands-on time. Oh, and it's ridiculously delicious.
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch of red chili flakes
~1 cup of tomato puree
splash of red wine
fabulous crusty loaf of bread, sliced and lightly toasted
Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese (or, as usual, whatever hard salty cheese you have), microplaned
In a large skillet, lightly saute your garlic and chili flakes in a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil until fragrant, just about a minute. Add your tomato puree with a splash of red wine, pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, cover, and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. If it gets too thick, just add a little water to loosen the sauce back up. This is a good time to toast up your bread (I just use the broiler on low for a minute or two on each side).
Crack an egg in each quadrant of the pan and sprinkle over a little more kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover the pan and let them cook for about 5 minutes, then check. Once the whites are set, you can continue to cook until your desired level of yolk doneness. I like to give mine a little flip so they're totally coated in tomato sauce (they will fall apart somewhat if you do this, but just pile it all up on the toast and it really doesn't matter a bit). Top each of your crusty toasts with an egg, a sprinkling of pungent Pecorino, and be at peace with the world.
Serves 2, takes half an hour (or a day, if you use the same bread recipe)