I don’t know about you, but when I have overnight guests, I don’t generally leave them to fend for themselves when they wake up. At a minimum, if they’re early risers, I’ll show them where to find the coffee and cereal, of course, and have bagels and cream cheese, muffins or croissants available. More often than not, however, I’ll be up earlier than my guests, preparing pancakes, French toast, or eggs and toast for them.
But for special occasions, like Christmas Eve morning, when we knew we’d be eating only one other meal in the day, (albeit a Lucullan feast), I splurge and make a casserole like this polenta breakfast bake recipe from The New York Times. It’s hearty enough to hold everyone until the big meal later on and much of it can be ahead of time. The bacon can be cooked and polenta can be made on the stove top the day before, leaving only the assembly and final baking to be done in the morning while guests are pouring coffee or tea.
To make it easy for yourself, buy instant polenta (please – NOT the already made polenta in a roll), and cook the bacon on a baking sheet in the oven. You can cook both of these the night before (or even two days before.) Just lay out the bacon strips on a baking sheet and cook at 400 degrees F. for about 10-15 minutes, or until it reaches the crispness you like. After you’ve made the polenta and added the cheese, pour it into a buttered casserole, and using a spoon or the bottom of a small bowl, carve out indentations for the eggs that you’ll crack into the spaces the next morning. Cover with plastic wrap or foil, and put everything in the refrigerator overnight.
Just before you’re ready to bake the casserole, scatter some spinach leaves and bacon pieces here and there, and drop the eggs into the little spaces you created in the polenta. Sprinkle it all with parmesan cheese and bake until the desired level of doneness you prefer your eggs. I prefer the yolks to be slightly runny, but it’s difficult (at least for me) to get the whites thoroughly cooked without nearly overcooking the yolks. If you have a solution to that, let me know.
When you remove the casserole from the oven, scatter a few fresh basil leaves all around, and enjoy. We loved this as a breakfast treat, but I wouldn’t mind sitting down to this for lunch or dinner either.
I hope all my readers had a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or whatever holiday you celebrate. All my best wishes to you all for a healthy and delicious 2019.
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- 2 T. unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the casserole
- 1 cup quick cooking polenta (NOT the kind already made in a tube)
- ½ t. sea salt
- 1 cup whole milk
- ½ cup/2 ounces fontina or mozzarella cheese (I used about 3 oz. of a herbal Boursin cheese)
- 5 ounces cooked bacon (or sausage, salami or ham) - optional
- 1 cup spinach leaves
- 6 large eggs (or 8 if your casserole is large enough)
- ½ cup/2 ounces parmesan cheese
- ground black pepper
- ¼ cup basil leaves to scatter
- Heat oven to 400 degrees.
- Generously butter a 9 x 13 inch casserole and set aside.
- Cook the bacon in the oven on a baking sheet at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes or until crisp. (This can be done the day before.)
- Pour 4 cups of water in a large pot and gradually whisk in the polenta and salt.
- Cook, switching from a whisk to a wooden spoon, stirring constantly until the polenta bubbles and pulls away from the pan, about 3 minutes.
- Vigorously stir in the milk, butter and cheese until smooth and creamy. (It will seem loose.)
- Spread the polenta onto the bottom of the prepared pan.
- Using the back of a spoon, or a small bowl, make indentations in the polenta for the eggs.
- (The polenta can be cooked the day before.)
- When ready to bake, scatter some of the spinach over the polenta and crack the eggs into the wells.
- Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake until the eggs have reached the doneness you prefer.
- After 20 minutes, my whites were just cooked and the yolks appeared a bit runny. I would have preferred them runnier, but the whites took longer to set than the yolks.
- Sprinkle with black pepper, scatter some basil leaves over everything, and serve, with buttered toast made from good, sturdy bread.