Start the day in a savory way

Baked Eggs and Grits, before baking. Jill Blanchette/The Day

If I could, I would eat a doughnut every day for breakfast. Or coffeecake. Or pancakes with maple syrup. Or Pop Tarts or a cinnamon roll.

Even if I set aside for a moment my goal of eating fewer processed and more whole, close to the source foods, eating sweets in the morning just doesn't work for me. I get hungry again much too soon and if I put off eating real food, I usually end up feeling weak and woozy. "Empty calories" really says it all. These sweets satisfy my craving but give me little to nothing in return in terms of refueling my body after a night's rest.

So savory it is.

I love eggs, so that's an obvious choice. I frequently make a big frittata, often using leftovers, then cut it into six big slices and store the slices in individual containers in the refrigerator. My husband can grab one on his way out the door to eat at work, and I can microwave a slice later. I like this idea of working a little bit harder on breakfast one morning, then reaping the rewards of that effort for the next several days.

I really admire cultures where they eat the same food for breakfast that they eat for any other meal, perhaps some broth with noodles or rice, some protein and vegetables. Sometimes, with some foods, that does appeal to me. I particularly enjoy tofu for breakfast. But on most mornings, I stare into the open refrigerator, find nothing appealing, and settle for toast and peanut butter.

In an effort to expand my breakfast repertoire, I came across a Martha Stewart recipe for Baked Eggs and Grits.

Unlike the frittata, this doesn't generate breakfast leftovers for the week to come. But similar to the frittata, you can use up small amounts of leftovers in this recipe.

And because it calls for instant grits, the time and effort required are minimal to achieve a flavorful, healthy breakfast, particularly if you're cooking just for one.

Like polenta, grits are ground, dried corn. But modern American grits are usually made from hominy, corn that has been soaked and cooked in an alkaline liquid. This ancient process improves the aroma and flavor of the corn, while making it easier to grind. It also makes the niacin in the corn easier for our bodies to absorb.

I've also made this recipe with Cream of Wheat, but I prefer it with the instant grits, which to me has a better texture and flavor.

In my experience, although I love Martha, I find that generally her recipes do not pack big flavor. Indeed, the original recipe calls for only arugula (green, peppery, nutritious), cheddar cheese and salt and pepper as its flavor components.

I've actually never made it with the arugula because I've always had other things in the fridge, small amounts of other greens or leftover cooked vegetables that needed to be used up. Also, I almost always add a chopped scallion or a bit of finely diced onion or shallot, to boost the savory nature of the dish.

I usually make this as a breakfast just for myself, so I make it as a single serving following the directions on the instant grits package then adding the other ingredients in whatever amounts seem to work.

For the arugula, you can substitute leftover cooked broccoli, leftover sautéed onions and peppers, a handful of baby spinach, a slice of cooked bacon — the possibilities are endless. Perhaps you have some leftover takeout — some curry or something Chinese with vegetables or some leftover chili. Experimentation is good.

The recipe calls for cheddar cheese, but if you have leftover Swiss, Fontina or mozzarella, thrown that in. I also use more cheese than Martha suggests, with half mixed into the grits and half sprinkled on top. The recipe calls for the sprinkling to happen after you take the ramekins out of the oven, but I prefer to add the cheese on top before I bake, that way it browns during the cooking.

Grits are a blank slate, ready to receive whatever flavors and textures you feel like eating. But if you find yourself without any leftovers at all, just use the scallion or onion. When it comes out of the oven, sprinkle on some hot sauce or Worcestershire for an extra boost.

The original recipe calls for a baking time of 20 minutes. In my oven, that will result in a hard-cooked egg yolk — dry texture, light yellow color — particularly since the egg will continue to cook for a few minutes after you remove it from the oven. One baked for 16 minutes will result in a yolk that appears to have been soft-boiled — not runny but still creamy, with a dark yellow color.

I usually set the timer for 10 minutes then check the egg by jiggling the pan. This way, you can tell whether the whites have set and are thoroughly cooked — a must for my taste. (If you add the cheese before baking, keep it around the edges, away from the yolk so you can see to judge the cooking time.) My preference would be well-cooked whites with a runny yolk, which would be almost sauce-like with the grits. However, because I'd rather face on overcooked yolk than uncooked whites, I have yet to achieve that. Next time though, I'll be brave and take them out after 15 minutes and see what happens.

Enjoy!

Baked Eggs and Grits for One

Olive oil, for brushing baking dishes (I use an olive oil spray)

¼ cup instant grits

Small handful of baby arugula (or whatever greens or leftover vegetables you have handy)

1 chopped scallion

About ¼ cup grated cheddar, divided, or whatever cheese you have

Salt and pepper

1 large egg

Hot sauce or Worcestershire sauce for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush or spray an 8-ounce ramekin or other small ovenproof dish with oil. Prepare grits according to package instructions. Add greens or leftover veggies, scallion and about 2 tablespoons cheese, and stir until cheddar melts, about 30 seconds. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour the grits into the baking dish and make a well in the center. Crack the egg into the well and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the egg whites, keeping the yolk exposed. Bake on a rimmed baking sheet, about 20 minutes for a hard-cooked yolk, 16 minutes for a soft-cooked yolk, or less for a runny yolk.

To serve, top grits with a sprinkle of pepper and perhaps some hot sauce or Worcestershire.

From www.marthastewart.com via www.pinterest.com.

Jill Blanchette eats breakfast late because she works at night at The Day. Share comments and recipes with her at j.blanchette@theday.com.

And after backing, with the cheese on top nicely browned.
And after backing, with the cheese on top nicely browned. Jill Blanchette/The Day

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