Baked eggs with tomato and spinach

Eggs baked with cream, tarragon and a compote of tomatoes, spinach and garlic are a simple vegetarian dish that feels luxurious and is infinitely tweakable. 

Blue Kitchen
Baked eggs lend themselves to all kinds of variations and dressing up with fresh herbs, cheese, bits of ham or bacon or even store bought salsa.

Columbus, Ohio, is a city that invites walking, from German Village up through downtown, Victorian Village, Short North, the University District and beyond. Which is fortunate, because it also encourages overindulgence at just about every turn. Inspired food options abound, from locavore breakfast spots to taco truck tours and the best small batch ice cream I’ve ever eaten.

I visited Columbus for the first time last fall on a press tour (you’ll find that story here), a guest of Experience Columbus, a non-profit organization that promotes the city as a travel destination. The tour was orchestrated by Weirick Communications, a Columbus-based tourism marketing firm. The city utterly charmed me, and not just because of the food. So a couple of weeks ago, Marion and I visited. It was her first time there, and she was as taken with the city as I was. 

Before going, I contacted Amy Weirick and asked her if she could suggest a few restaurants I hadn’t tried. Instead, she sent us a two-page itinerary of places for food, art, and shopping with only one repeat from my original trip. A little full disclosure here: Experience Columbus also picked up the check at a number of our stops. But we would have been thrilled with the choices even if they hadn’t.

The one official repeat on the itinerary was Pistacia Vera, a light-filled patisserie in German Village that smells like butter, sugar and coffee. They are rightly known for their sweet, airy macarons in many flavors and hues. We sampled some of those, of course, but we also wanted something a little more substantial. After all, it would be at least an hour before we had a chance to eat again. So we split an order of tomato Provençal baked eggs. Even before our first bite, I knew I had found an inspiration for a dish to cook.

This recipe is as much about technique as it is an actual recipe. Baked (or shirred) eggs are based on the classic French dish oeufs en cocotte, eggs baked in individual buttered baking dishes with milk or cream and served with salt and pepper at the table. They can be as simple as that and be delicious.

Baked eggs lend themselves to all kinds of variations and dressing up, though – with fresh herbs, cheese, bits of ham or bacon or even store bought salsa. And for serving weekend house guests, they’re actually easier to get to the table all at once (and still warm, thanks to the oven-heated ramekins) than making plain fried eggs for everyone. Best of all, serving them in individual baking dishes makes them seem special.

Here’s my recipe. I encourage you to improvise and make it your own. But be careful to not overwhelm the eggs with too much volume of other ingredients. The finished dish should be eggs with something, not something with eggs.

(See recipe next page)

Baked Eggs with Tomato and Spinach
Serves 2

For tomato spinach compote:
1 medium tomato

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 cup finely chopped baby spinach (about 1 ounce)

1 medium clove garlic, minced

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon (or 1/4 teaspoon dried)

For eggs:

4 large eggs

2 tablespoons cream (or milk)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Tomato spinach compote

1-1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)

Special equipment: Individual baking dishes or large ovenproof ramekins

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F with an oven rack in middle position.

Prepare the compote. Blanch the tomato by dropping it into a medium saucepan of boiling water. After 10 seconds, remove with a strainer and set aside to cool slightly. Empty saucepan and return to burner (turned off) to dry. Core and peel tomato, scoop out the seeds using your fingers and gently squeeze out any liquid from the tomato. Then dice the tomato; you should have about 1/2 to 3/4 cup.

Heat olive oil in saucepan over medium low flame. Add tomato, spinach and garlic to pan and toss to combine and coat with oil. Season with salt and pepper and add chopped tarragon. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes, then remove from heat and set aside. When it has cooled slightly, drain in a fine mesh strainer, pressing lightly with a wooden spoon to remove some of the liquid.

Prepare eggs. Lightly butter two small baking dishes. Break two eggs into each dish, being careful to not break yolks. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of cream over each dish (this will help keep the eggs from drying out). Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of Parmesan over each dish. Divide tomato spinach compote between the two baking dishes, carefully spooning between egg yolks. Sprinkle the fresh tarragon over eggs.

Bake 12 to 16 minutes. Check the eggs after about 10 minutes baking time. Rotate the dishes if the eggs aren’t cooking evenly. When done, the whites should be completely set – not jiggly in the center – and the yolks beginning to thicken but not hard. (I found out just how unevenly our oven heats up – one dish was done about three minutes before the other.) The eggs will continue to cook after being removed from the oven. Remove from oven and serve immediately, with toast – or croissants or rolls. Don’t forget that the baking dishes are hot – put them on a saucer or plate to serve.

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