We’re adding another heavyweight to the A-list of fiery brunches. Chilies, tomatoes, and buttered eggs are the foundation for middle eastern shakshuka, Turkish menemen, and Mexico’s huevos rancheros and chilaquiles. Our chili buttered eggs brunch riff builds on that very solid ground.
Our classy riff is primarily influenced by some stand-out tastes of the Mediterranean, beginning with a roasted ratatouille. Chunkily cut zucchini and eggplant are cooked hot and fast alongside whole cherry tomatoes. This is the slightly charred combo that gets things off to a flying start with its variety of contrasting colors, flavors, and textures.
Once our vegetable trio has been softened and sweetened in that high, roasting heat — with sizzling butter, thyme, and black pepper — it’s served over a full-bodied, Napoletana sauce. This is one of the world’s great sauces. Classically Italian, Napoletana allows garlic, onion, oregano, and olive oil to add new depths to a tomato base.
A star-studded supporting cast
And what a stellar list we have here. Starting with a cayenne chili butter, the tapestry of tastes and textures is enriched by eggplant crisps, baby spinach, Parmesan shavings, and toasted ciabatta.
Balance and poise are the watchwords here. This chili buttered eggs dish is all about elegance rather than extravagance. The eggplant crisps and toasted ciabatta both have crunch, but their flavors and inner textures are totally different.
With its bright green, grassy freshness, the barely-cooked baby spinach takes us in an opposite direction altogether — as does the tangy, nutty saltiness of the Parmesan shavings.
And then there’s that simple chili butter. Fresh red cayenne peppers are sliced into thin discs and then warmed in the flavorful butter that’s been carefully drained from the roasted vegetables. That little bit of buttery heat means the cayennes keep all the vibrant immediacy of their pretty potent heat. And, yet again, you’ll be adding a new layer of flavor to the complementary contrasts that all unite to make this such an exceptional brunch-time pleasure.
The crowning glory: Lightly poached, free-range eggs
For me, the ultimate way to showcase the very best qualities of fine, free-range egg is to poach it — lightly. And to enjoy the best of the best, you do need to be using really fresh eggs — and I mean really fresh.
Now, I’m a big fan of eggs regardless of whether they’re fried, scrambled or boiled — soft in the mornings and hard-boiled when they’re picnic essentials. But, nothing quite matches the unbroken perfection of a couple of eggs that have been lightly poached. Do I poach mine in gently simmering water? Er, no. Have to admit that I’ve never really mastered that bit of wizardry. So, a far more talented buddy handled the eggs. Me? I happily use a four-cupped egg ‘poacher’ — and ignore the buddy’s scorn.
Crowning glory? You betcha. When you set a pair of those pearly beauties in pride of place, you’ll have plated a very special brunch indeed. With their just-set whites and softly oozing, golden-yellow yolks, the chili buttered eggs are surrounded by a richly varied mosaic of contrasts. And that’s when they really come into their own — as the ultimate contrast.
Chili Buttered Eggs, Roasted Ratatouille, And Napoletana Sauce
For the roasted ratatouille
- 1 1/2 pounds eggplants That weight gave me four, medium size eggplants. Trim off the green stalks and cut the eggplants into 1 ½ inch, squarish chunks, skin and all.
- 3/4 pound cherry tomatoes ripe and red, left whole
- 3/4 pound zucchini medium-sized, topped, tailed, and cut into 1 ½ inch lengths. I like to partly peel them first, to give the zucchini a few lengthwise stripes. This not only looks good, it also cuts down the slight bitterness of the skins.
- 1/2 pound salted butter Now, that may sound like a lot of butter for roasting the vegetables. Bear in mind that most of it is going to be drained off and used for making your chili butter.
- 1 1/2 heaped teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground sea salt
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground black pepper
For the chili butter
- 6 cayenne peppers fresh and red, sliced into 1/8-inch disks, seeds and all
- All the butter drained from the roasted ratatouille vegetables That gave me about 1/2 cup of melted butter.
For the Napoletana sauce
- 1 can peeled plum tomatoes 14-ounce can, juice and all
- 8 cherry tomatoes ripe, red, and halved lengthwise
- 1 red onion peeled, halved, and cut into 1/8-inch slices
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and very thinly sliced
- 2 heaped teaspoons fresh oregano finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground sea salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
For the eggplant crisps
- 3/4 pound eggplants I used two medium size ones to give me that weight. Trim off the green stalks, and slice the eggplants into wafer-thin rounds, skin and all.
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
For the baby spinach
- 1 pound baby spinach
- 2 tablespoons salted butter
- 1 teaspoon ground sea salt
For the eggs
- 8 free-range eggs 2 per person. I like mine lightly poached.
For the ciabatta toast
- 8 slices ciabatta 2 per person. Cut about 2/3-inch thick is grand for me. Lightly toasted.
Roasting the ratatouille vegetables
- We’ll start with roasting the ratatouille — and while that’s happening, you can make the Napoletana sauce.
- So, set your oven to 480F / 250C. Now add the butter to a good size baking dish that will easily hold the whole cherry tomatoes, and the chunkily cut eggplant and zucchini in a single layer. As soon as the oven reaches temperature, set your dish with the butter on a high shelf. Let it sit there for a few minutes so the butter melts and the dish comes up to heat.
- Once that happens, add to the dish the eggplant, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, thyme, salt, and pepper. Give the lot a good mixing stir in the sizzling butter, and set the dish back in the oven. Let it roast there for 15 minutes, and then give the mix another good stir.
- Now let it roast away for another 15 minutes. You’re aiming here to get a little charring color on the veg, so be a little watchful so that the veg doesn’t darken too much. Good. Turn off the oven, and let the dish sit there so that it stays warm and the butter remains melted.
Making the Napoletana sauce
- Set a good size saucepan on a medium-high heat, and add the olive oil. Let the oil heat for a couple of minutes, then stir in the onion, garlic, and salt. Drop the heat to low-medium and let the onions and garlic fry gently — with a few stirs — for about 7 minutes. You’re looking to soften the onion and garlic — but not to let it pick up any color. That’s important — softened, but not at all browned.
- Now stir in the halved cherry tomatoes, and let the mix fry for another 5 minutes or so on that low-medium heat until the tomatoes start to lose most of their body.
- Once that happens, raise the heat to medium, and add the canned tomatoes with their juice, the oregano, sugar, and black pepper. Stir well, and let the pan come up to a gentle bubble. Then drop the heat to low and simmer the sauce gently for 15 minutes with a few stirs. Test for saltiness and adjust according to your taste. Cover the pan. The sauce can now sit on a very low heat — really just to keep it warm.
Making the chili butter, preparing the roasted ratatouille for serving
- Tip the roasted veg into a colander to drain off — and save — as much of the butter as you can. Now add the butter to a small saucepan set on a low heat, and stir in the sliced chilis. As soon as the buttery mix starts to bubble, turn off the heat, and transfer your chili butter to a microwave-proof jug. It’ll get some fast heat in the microwave just before you serve your brunch.
- Now place the roasted veg back in your still-warm oven while you head into the final lap of cooking.
Making the eggplant crisps, toasting the ciabatta, warming the spinach, and poaching the eggs
- Here’s where you need to be focused on sorting a few things simultaneously so that they’re all ready for serving at the same time.
- The eggplant crisps, spinach, and eggs are each going to take about 4 minutes to cook. Just keep that in mind because you’re aiming to have them all ready for serving at the same time. Also remember the ciabatta toast — you want that to be toasted to a pale gold color, and to be pretty much done by serving time.
- The eggplant crisps are going to get flash-fried in hot olive oil — 2 minutes on each side — in a big skillet. The spinach just gets melted into some butter over a low heat with a little salt added. The eggs get poached to your liking, and the ciabatta toast gets a light toasting.
- Ok. Here’s what needs to happen. For the eggplant crisps, add the oil to a big skillet set on a high heat. As soon as it begins barely smoking, add the thinly-sliced eggplant in a single layer. Keep the heat on high and fry the slices for 2 minutes on each side, so they take on a dark, golden color. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the crisped slices to a kitchen towel so that any excess oil gets absorbed.
- For the spinach, add the butter and salt to a medium size saucepan set on a high heat. As soon as the butter starts foaming, drop the heat to low and add all the spinach. Give it a really good stir, so the spinach gets coated with the butter. Cover the pan, and turn off the heat. That’s all the spinach needs — it will continue to soften a little more as it sits in the covered pan. Stir once more before serving.
Plating your brunch — onto nicely warmed plates, please
- Heat the chili butter for 30 seconds on high in the microwave.
- For each diner, begin with a centrally-plated serving of Napoletana sauce. Spoon the roasted ratatouille over the sauce. Now neatly add to the plate’s edges the spinach, eggplant crisps, and toasted ciabatta. Top the middle of the plate with two poached eggs, and pour a serving of the chili butter over everything, including the toast. Done!