by Contributing Writer Mary Cressler
Spring is here (finally!), and to me spring just screams breakfast. I know, it’s odd, but hear me out. Spring is about beginnings, and breakfast is the first meal of the day. Spring is about renewal, another winter closed and the inviting, comfortable weather starting to take hold, while a late morning brunch just screams comfort food and long lazy mornings in preparation for an awesome day. So they seem to fit together. Since I’m such a fan, it seems fitting that one of my favorite events to host is Sunday brunch.
The very first time I tried to make a fancy brunch for friends ended up being one mimosa short of a disaster. Correction. It was a blast for my friends, but a disaster for me! I attempted to bake scones, make sausage AND bacon, create a fancy fruit plate, AND make Eggs Benedict, all at the same time. Eggs Benedict is my favorite breakfast meal so my deranged brain thought it would be the perfect thing to make for a crowd. Mind you at the time I had never actually poached an egg before, nor had I attempted hollandaise sauce.
My eggs kept exploding in the boiling water (note you are not supposed to boil water for poached eggs!), and my hollandaise sauce came out rubbery and thick, and my scones burnt because I was too busy tending to the explosive eggs to remember to take them out of the oven. Needless to say we munched on fruit, meat, and blackened scones and bottomless mimosas all morning while a dozen eggs found their way to the garbage disposal.
Then one day I was watching an episode of Barefoot Contessa where Ina Garten shared a similar brunch disaster involving omelets and resolved to make frittatas for future brunch gatherings instead of individual omelets which were too time consuming. ”Brilliant!” I thought, and have been making frittatas ever since.
Frittatas are basically a quiche but without the crust, so they end up resembling something closer to a large omelet to be shared by many. They are incredibly easy to make and can feed several. The ingredients are yours to choose. Start with whatever you put into your favorite omelet. The following combination is one of my favorites. As a bonus I also threw in my husbands favorite “impress my friends” dishes — maple bacon! He’s a typical guy who loves his bacon, what more can I say?
- 1 hot Italian pork sausage, casing removed
- ½ yellow onion, sliced
- 1 cup cremini mushrooms, sliced
- ¼ cup jarred roasted red peppers, roughly diced
- 2 Tablespoons butter, divided
- 1/3 cup milk (or heavy cream for a richer texture)
- 6 large eggs, lightly beaten with the milk
- 4 ounces goat cheese, sliced thinly
- salt and pepper to taste
- Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
- In a 10-inch ovenproof saucepan, cook up the sausage and break it up into crumbles until sausage is cooked through (approx 6-8 minutes).
- Transfer the sausage bits to a plate and leave the drippings in the saucepan.
- Using the same saucepan add about ½ tablespoon olive oil (or butter) and cook the mushrooms until soft (approx 6 minutes).
- Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan set to medium heat, add 1 tablespoon butter and the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are caramelized (approx 10 min).
- Add back the sausage and onions to the mushrooms over a medium heat, and the peppers. Add the lightly beaten egg and milk mixture and distribute the slices of goat cheese evenly.
- Cook until the edges begin to set (about 2 minutes). Transfer skillet to the oven and bake approximately 15 minutes, until the frittata is set. You can test to see if it is done using the toothpick test. If it comes out clean, it’s done.
- 8 slices thick cut bacon
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- Place the bacon on a cookie sheet*.
- Cook for 12 minutes until the bacon starts to crisp.
- Remove from oven and then brush with maple syrup once and put back into the oven for 3 minutes.
- Remove and brush the bacon again with the syrup and add back into the oven for another 3 minutes.
- Remove and let cool slightly.
*We use a cooling rack to cook the bacon; it allows extra fat to fall into the pan and in my opinion allows the maple syrup to adhere better to the bacon.
If you ask most wine people, they will warn you that pairing wine with eggs can be challenging. Depending on whom you ask, you may receive different explanations and theories as to why. In my experience, I find if the dish is yolky (like in Eggs Benedict or sunny side up) the yolk coats the palate muting the taste of the wine. Not the end of the world. This is the reason sparkling wine and mimosas make for such a great pairing – the bubbles will cut through the yolk and refresh the palate. In a dish like frittata the yolk is blended with the whites and cooked through so that problem isn’t quite as evident.
When it comes to eggs and wine I try to not over think it. If it is a breakfast dish I let the theme guide my wine selection – i.e. mid-morning brunch. Early in the day I’m not drinking Napa Cabs. I prefer instead to enjoy light refreshing crisp white wines, and subsequently many pair quite well with frittatas.
Traditional: Mimosas and Sparkling Wine
What is brunch without a mimosa? Boring if you ask me. If you go with a traditional orange juice mimosa, my advice is to seek out nice neutral dry sparkling wine. I would never blend good Champagne with orange juice. Instead I have my go-to standards that are nice enough to be drunk on their own, but the quality isn’t quite as high, nor the price nearly as expensive as Champagne, so make for better options for mixing. My go-to’s for mixing are Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut or Segura Viudas Brut Reserva – both are Cava’s from Spain, and both clock in at anywhere from $6-8 (depending on where in the country you are).
If you omit the orange juice and just want a nice refreshing bubbly to pair with your brunch, sparkling Prosecco from Italy is a great choice. You can find them from dry to sweet, typically full of bright fruit and a refreshing palate. La Marca Prosecco is a nice choice at about $14. With bright apple, lemon, and tropical fruit on the nose and a slightly sweet but highly acidic palate, it’s delicious and balanced with the savory frittata and equally sweet and savory crunchy bacon.
For something different and exciting, look to Northeast Italy’s Friuli region for their zesty white wines. Just returning from a trip to Friuli, I had one of my favorite meals at a quaint family run lunch spot. The meal happened to also be a frittata, paired with one of the most exciting white wines from the region — Ribolla Gialla. This indigenous grape variety tends to produce wines that are fresh, dry, crisp, and minerally on the palate. Several producers make a sparkling version where the grape really shines!
So there you go, this is why I like spring and breakfast. It’s about kicking away winter and starting fresh, and what better way to do it than a beautiful brunch for a crowd to celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of spring.
Mary Cressler is a Certified Sommelier, a Wine Location Specialist, and the proprietor of Vindulge: Wine Education & Consulting. She conducts wine classes and events and offers consulting for individuals, restaurants, and event planners.
She writes about wine, food, and travel on her blog Vindulge. Mary resides in Connecticut with her husband, twin boys, and two Chihuahuas.