Italians don’t eat brunch. At least not that I could tell. I traveled northern Italy for over two weeks in 2012. For our morning meals we drank espresso and ate bread, charcuterie, cheese, and sometimes some fruit. But from Venice to the Ligurian coast, I never saw a poached egg, anywhere.
So when a friend told me his new boss was looking for a chef to “do brunch” for her Italian restaurant, I was intrigued. He was a server where I cooked 200-300 cover brunches, and made everything from house smoked meats and fish, to freshly baked biscuits, and house made granola. “I want that,” she said. We met earlier this week, and for her brunch I thought it made more sense to create an Italian inspired brunch using ingredients already on their menu instead of adding a lot of special items to their inventory. So I spent the day testing out some ideas.
New Yorkers love brunch and they have a lot of options. Every neighborhood diner has some version of a “diet plate” on their menu. It is usually a scoop of cottage cheese, and a few chunks of honeydew and cantaloupe. To set the restaurant apart, I am putting a Winter Fruit and Ricotta plate on the menu. To keep it seasonal, we are using bananas, pineapples, apples, citrus, and grapes, and creamy fresh ricotta cheese takes the place of the cottage cheese. A drizzle of citrus honey syrup brings out the sweetness of the fruit, and a sprinkle of toasted almonds adds a little salty crunch.
We are going to keep their Three Color Salad of arugula, endive, and radicchio. To that I am adding a heartier chopped Kale Salad using thinly sliced brussels sprouts, radishes, pancetta, and hazelnuts. I imagine a poached egg would be a nice add-on option.
Those of you who know me know how much I love poached eggs and swine, right? And what kind of brunch would it be if there weren’t some variation of Eggs Benedict? The restaurant bakes fresh focaccia daily, so I will be using that as the base. Instead of hollandaise I tried making a creamy spinach and roasted garlic sauce. It was perfect spread on toasted focaccia before topping with thinly sliced prosciutto and two pristine poached eggs.
Sorry omelet lovers, but I am getting rid of them in favor of a frittata. It is an Italian restaurant after all, and they already have broccoli rabe, slow roasted tomatoes, and goat cheese on hand.
Tomorrow I tackle French Toast, Sausage and Polenta, and a Burger. I prefer an Italian Beef Sandwich, but I guess no brunch menu in New York can really be complete without a burger.
Oh, and I made the mistake of testing all these plates alone at home. I ate the fruit and ricotta for breakfast, and kale salad for lunch, then after that I couldn’t eat any more. I tasted everything of course, but now have a fridge full of leftovers. Any volunteer tasters out there?
For Fun: I tried making wine poached eggs today instead of using vinegar and water. It turns out that white wine has the perfect level of acidity to cause the whites to coagulate and makes perfect beautiful eggs. But at $10 for even a cheap bottle of wine, there was not enough improvement in flavor to make it worth it. Maybe we’ll use red wine poached eggs for Valentine’s Day.