Most people, I assume, remember the joy of being a child and getting to indulge in the rare treat of breakfast-dinner. This, of course, was a dinner made up entirely of breakfast foods, from pancakes to scrambled eggs and toast, or, for the luckiest among us, waffles and fruit. As an adult, I still love eating breakfast-dinner, only now, much to the disappointment of my younger self, my idea of breakfast-dinner seems to have reversed itself. My preferred breakfasts are now decidedly more dinner-like, making my breakfast-dinners only slightly so.
The turning point for my love of a dinner-breakfast (it only seems right to reverse it while discussing how it came to be) was an absolutely delightful breakfast I had at a French place a few blocks away from my house. The breakfast consisted of risotto cakes, topped with poached eggs, accompanied by a side of roasted butternut squash. Aside from the eggs, it was not what I would have previously considered a particularly breakfasty breakfast, but I count it among one of the best breakfasts I have ever eaten (many times, for now I find myself unable to order anything else whenever I set foot in that restaurant during breakfast hours). Something about that meal set my breakfast notions in a different direction, and now the place where my idea of breakfast meets my idea of dinner is all shadowy and muddled. Basically, they’ve become one in the same.
It was in this shadowy place that I became a huge fan of making both breakfast-dinner and dinner-breakfast into a showcase for crisp squares of polenta that were topped with whatever I could find in the fridge, then finished with a fried or poached egg. If I have spare greens in the fridge, I sauté them with a bit of garlic and throw them over the polenta. Roasted summer squash is a fine addition here, and a lot can be said for simply sautéing some onions and bell peppers with a generous pinch of red pepper flakes, slathering the end product with a stream of hot sauce, and starting your day (or ending it) with a bit of a kick. If you desire a simple accompaniment to a light meal, I am very fond of toasting individual slices of polenta, topped with a bit of Parmesan cheese, under the broiler.
Right now, I am loving the tender asparagus that has just started showing up at the market, and I am convinced that there are no better friends to that asparagus than crisp polenta squares and soft-cooked eggs. Together, they make what currently stands as my favorite breakfast, my favorite lunch, and, yes, my favorite dinner.
Polenta Toast with Roasted Asparagus and Fried Eggs Recipe
Adapted from James McNair’s Breakfast
4 cups water
1 1/3 cups polenta
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Generously butter the sides and bottom of an 8.5” by 4.5” loaf pan, and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a rapid boil over high heat. Pour the polenta into the boiling water in one continuous stream, stirring with a long-handled wooden spoon as you pour. Turn the heat down to low, and stir, stir, stir the polenta until it is smooth, thick, and yields a lot of resistance against the spoon. This should take between 15 and 20 minutes of continuous stirring, being always careful to keep the polenta at a low simmer so as not to allow roiling polenta bubbles to pop up and burn your stirring hand. When the polenta is soft and thick, remove from heat and stir in the salt, pepper, and butter.
Pour the cooked polenta into the prepared loaf pan, then tap the loaf pan gently on the counter to help settle the polenta. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the top of the polenta, then place it in the refrigerator to firm up. You could conceivably retrieve your polenta after 5 or 6 hours, but I think it is best to allow the polenta to cool in the refrigerator overnight.
When the polenta is completely cool, gently run a thin spatula or knife around the edges of the loaf to separate it from the pan, then invert the polenta loaf onto a cutting board. If the polenta remains firmly stuck in the pan, submerge the bottom ¾ of the pan in a pool of warm water, and allow the pan to heat up a bit and help loosen the polenta.
Cut the polenta loaf into slices of your desired thickness. In a medium skillet, heat a pat of butter over medium heat until it just starts to sizzle. Add 3 or 4 polenta slices to pan at a time, making certain not to crowd them, and gently sauté on each side until lightly browned (about 3-5 minutes per side).
Top with whatever you desire.
Roasted Asparagus and Fried Eggs
1 pound of asparagus, large ends snapped off
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons water
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
On a large baking sheet, combine asparagus, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Using your hands, toss everything together until uniformly coated with olive oil, then arrange asparagus in a single layer. Roast the asparagus in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the tips are crisp and browned.
Just before the asparagus has finished roasting, heat the butter in a medium to large skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter just begins to sizzle, crack the eggs into the pan. Cook the eggs until the whites begin to firm up but the yolks are still soft, then carefully pour the two tablespoons of water around the eggs and then very quickly place a lid firmly over the pan. The eggs will sizzle and splatter for another 1 to 2 minutes, until the whites are completely cooked, but the yolks are still runny. If you prefer a firmer egg, cook it a tad longer.
Place asparagus spears over slices of sauteed polenta toast, then top asparagus with a fried egg. Add more salt and pepper to taste.
Serves 4, with extra polenta toast left over.