Pan Dulcis

toastA good morning makes all the difference. I start most of my mornings by pressing snooze at least three times. That is probably not the right start to my day. In an ideal world, I would wake up early without an alarm and enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee before heading out for the day. Although that’s not my reality, I do have certain morning routines that brighten my day. For example, I usually walk by a court house on my way to work, and when I do, I can always count on being greeted by name by the friendliest security guard. His name is Tro. Yes, T-R-O, like temporary restraining order, as he explained it. Lately Tro has been working with “the Italian”, who likes to say, “Buongiorno signorina. Come stai?” or “Dove è il mio cappuccino?” These things make me happy.

breadAs most of you know, breakfast also makes me happy. I tend to be a creature of habit with my favorite breakfasts. On weekdays, I like a little bit of Greek yogurt with fresh berries and cashew ginger granola for some crunch. On weekends, I usually find myself at The Old Townhouse with a plate full of fried eggs, hash-browns, and crispy bacon.  A couple of weekends ago, however, I decided to spice it up a bit. I had my two girlfriends, Kristen and Shradha, over for Sunday brunch to try out this recipe. It’s French toast, with an Italian twist. And it’s so good, I imagine my old friend “the Italian” would try it and say, “Brava!”

2xNow, what I am about to tell you, may blow your mind. French toast … was not invented by the French! The earliest reference to what we know as French toast is in a 4th century Roman cookbook attributed to Apicius. Just as we do today, the Romans would soak bread in a milk and egg mixture and fry it in oil or butter. They called this recipe “pan dulcis”, hence the title of my post. The French actually call this concoction “pain perdu”, or “lost bread”. The bread is described as “lost’ because the recipe calls for hard or stale bread. The name “French toast” allegedly originates with an Albany, NY innkeeper named Joseph French. In 1724, he made the dish we all know and love, and he advertised it as “French toast”.  The rest is history, I guess. But as far as I am concerned, I think the Italians through their Roman ancestry can claim this dish as their own.

dip2For my version of French toast, I wanted to incorporate some Italian ingredients. I was inspired by a Giada De Laurentiis recipe, which uses “panettone”, a Milanese sweet bread loaf enjoyed for Christmas and New Year. Unfortunately, since “panettone” is a seasonal treat, I couldn’t find it for this dish. However, I did find an amazing substitute at Con Pane – raisin hazelnut bread. I think any hearty fruit and nut bread you can find would be delicious. I did borrow one ingredient from the French – Grand Marnier. Everything is better with a little Grand Marnier, right? Then, to bring it back home, I put a big scoop of marscapone cheese on top of the final product.

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This recipe marks my 50th blog post! August will be my 5 year blogaversary, which I will celebrate with a special recipe to be determined. Some years I have been more productive than others, but I’m just happy that I’m still doing what I love and that you are still reading. By far, my favorite mornings are those when I am cooking something up for y’all. Cheers.

Pan Dulcis, serves 4-6

  • 1 loaf hearty fruit & nut bread (see above)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup half & half
  • 1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4-6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Marscapone cheese
  • Fresh berries
  • Maple syrup
  • Powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Cut loaf into roughly 1-inch thick slices and set aside. In a casserole dish, whisk together the eggs, half & half, Grand Marnier, orange zest, and sugar. Warm the maple syrup in a small pot over low heat.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, dip the bread slices into the custard, turning to allow both sides to absorb the custard. Cook the soaked bread slices until golden brown and firm to the touch, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the French toast to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven. Repeat with remaining butter and bread slices.

Transfer the French toast to plates. Drizzle warm maple syrup over the toast and place a dollop of mascarpone on top. Lightly dust with powdered sugar and serve with fresh berries.

Torta di Frittate

05It has been brought to my attention that for being a lover of breakfast, I have seriously underrepresented my favorite meal of the day. My friend David aptly mentioned this to me, since he and I share a fondness for all things breakfast. Shortly after I moved to California I met David, who informed me that San Diego is “breakfast-town.” Skeptical of this stranger’s claim, I told him to prove it. Ever since then, we have been trying different breakfast, not brunch, restaurants in town. Recently an article was published naming the iconic diners in the city, and I am proud to say that we have been to half of them together for breakfast in addition to many other delicious restaurants. After two years of waking up early on the weekends, I can tell you that San Diego is serious about breakfast.

01This brings me to today’s recipe – torta di frittate or frittata cake. Last year for David’s birthday I made him breakfast, so this year I decided to continue the tradition and blog about what I made. I wanted to make some sort of egg dish, and when I found an egg recipe that described itself as a cake, I thought, “What could be better than a breakfast egg birthday cake?” Especially when it has Fontina cheese, roasted eggplant, Parmesan cheese, roasted red bell pepper, and MORE Fontina cheese. As if that wasn’t enough, I topped it with some spicy arugula pesto. Yeah, I went there.

09So if you are not excited by the same old birthday cake every year or if you just feel like making a special breakfast, this recipe is a piece of a cake (sorry I couldn’t help myself). You can substitute the ingredients with anything you have on hand, like potatoes, onions, or cheddar cheese. And as with all recipes, this frittata is best enjoyed in the company of good friends. Thanks for putting up with the picture-taking David and Taylor!

08Torta di Frittate, serves 6

  • 6 eggs
  • Half of a medium eggplant, sliced
  • 1 large red bell pepper
  • 3 1/2 ounces Fontina cheese, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and turn on the broiler. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and broil the eggplant slices until soft and golden. Meanwhile roast the bell pepper in the oven or directly on a burner until blackened and charred. Transfer the pepper to a plastic bag, seal the bag, and let cool. When cool enough to handle, peel and seed the pepper. Cut the pepper into strips and set aside with the eggplant. Increase the oven temperature to 475 degrees.

Beat two eggs in one bowl and two eggs in another bowl. Season both with salt and pepper and divide the parsley between them. Beat the remaining two eggs in a third bowl. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Heat the butter and a little olive oil in a medium skillet. Pour in one bowl of the egg and parsley mixture and cook until set on one side, but still a little runny on the other. Slide the frittata out of the skillet and cook two more using the remaining egg mixtures.

Line a cake pan with parchment paper and place one of the parsley frittatas, soft side up, in it. Cover with the eggplant and half of the Fontina. Place the Parmesan frittata on top, soft side up, and cover with bell pepper strips and the remaining Fontina cheese. Finally, place the second parsley frittata on top, soft side down. Bake for 10 minutes. Serve hot or cold with spicy arugula pesto. I made this recipe, but left out the Asiago cheese.

Breakfast Tostadas

Breakfast is by far my favorite meal of the day. I am not always good about eating it in the morning, but when I do, oh boy. That’s why Sunday brunch is one of my favorite activities. When I go out to a restaurant I am always torn between sweet or salty; the pancakes look so good but I usually can’t help and order the migas. The only problem with going out for Sunday brunch is everyone else has the same idea. And the prices? Forget about it. But as always I am convinced a DIY dish is always tastier, and this tostada has become a Sunday morning favorite.

I thought about calling this recipe “Kitchen Sink Tostada” but something about that didn’t sound appetizing. The point is you probably have most of the ingredients you need to make a delicious breakfast already in your refrigerator. Eggs for the cookies you keep meaning to bake? Check. Half an onion left over because inevitably you never use the whole thing? Check. A jar of pickled jalapeños because you are a Texan and you always have this on hand? You get the idea. Use what you got and have fun with it. Don’t worry about exact measurements and experiment. Just maybe don’t throw in the dog food and old Thai leftovers (thanks Katie).

Breakfast Tostada, serves 4

  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tortillas (I used flour)
  • 1 can of black beans
  • 3 whole pickled jalapeños, chopped (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • Salsa

Preheat the broiler. In a medium pot combine the black beans and chopped jalapeños. Cook on medium heat for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally and smashing some beans to thicken the mixture. Meanwhile melt 1/2 tablespoon butter in a pan and saute the red onions until they begin to caramelize. Transfer the onions to a bowl and in the same pan melt the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of butter. Crack the eggs into the pan and fry until the whites are set. While the eggs are cooking place the tortillas under the broiler for 2-3 minutes. Once they are browned transfer them to a baking sheet to assemble the tostada. Spread 1/4 of the black bean mix on each tortilla and add the caramelized onions. When the eggs are ready gently place them on top and sprinkle with cheese. Broil the tostadas for 2-3 minutes, until the cheese is melted. Top with salsa (I used a mixture of red and green) and grab your fork!