It's been so bitterly cold lately, I thought I would finally share this stunner of a vegetarian brunch with everyone. A few weeks ago we had a friend over for brunch. It had been a long couple of post-holiday weeks, and everyone was playing catchup at work. So I thought having something delicious and comforting for brunch would help take the edge off. A favorite local Italian restaurant of ours has an appetizer I adore - waffle fries fried with sage and rosemary with a side of gorgonzola cream sauce for dipping. It's divine. I wanted to replicate something similar at home, but brunchified, and with a little lighter hand. So I decided to roast some red potatoes with sage and rosemary and olive oil. I had intended to pick out the herbs as I'm generally not a fan of whole rosemary leaves, but everything fried up in the olive oil so beautifully that we devoured the herbs alongside the potatoes.
I topped the potatoes with a fried egg, to make things feel more breakfast-y, with a side of broiled grapefruit for a vintage feel and to cut the fat a little. Sadly I used brown sugar, so instead of caramelizing it just melted everywhere. Still tasted yummy though. We had faux mimosas (the friend doesn't drink alcohol) which were also delicious. The star of the show, though, was the potatoes and cream sauce. Divine.
Rosemary & Sage Roasted Potatoes
I used a fancy flake salt flavored with wild garlic, so if you're using regular sea salt, maybe add just a dash of garlic powder or some minced garlic.
6-8 medium red potatoes
1 container/bunch fresh sage
1 container/bunch fresh rosemary
coarse sea salt
Preheat oven to 450 F. Scrub the potatoes, cut off any eyes or bad parts, and cut into similarly-sized cubes. Wash the herbs and strip the leaves off of the rosemary stems. Pop the sage leaves off of their longer stems. On a large half sheet pan, spread the potatoes, and drizzle with olive oil. Add the herbs and using your hands, gently toss everything to combine (you can do this in a bowl if it's easier) and spread out in one layer, making sure the potatoes all have a cut end facing down. Sprinkle with salt and put in the oven. Roast for 20-30 minutes, or until potatoes are perfectly tender, with crisp brown bottoms. When ready to serve, use a very flat spatula to scrape up the crispy bits and put the whole shebang, potatoes, herbs, and all, into a serving dish.
Garlicky Gorgonzola Cream Sauce
One of the miracles of heavy cream is that if you reduce it, it turns into this silky sauce with no need for a roux in sight.
1 pint heavy cream (use more if you like!)
2 cloves garlic
1+ cup crumbled gorgonzola
salt & pepper to taste
With the flat side of a knife slightly crush your peeled garlic cloves, and add them to the heavy cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over medium heat. Let the cream simmer, but do not boil, until reduced slightly (it should coat a spoon) and fragrant with garlic. Fish out the garlic cloves and discard. Add the gorgonzola and stir to melt. Give it a taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Keep hot until ready to use.
To make brunch, pile some potatoes on a plate, add a ladle of gorgonzola sauce, and top with a fried egg. If you're like me (over medium, please!), you like to break the runny yolk.
If you're entertaining folks for brunch who don't want or can't have alcohol, virgin mimosas are delightful. We had sparkling cider from New Year's Eve that had gone un-opened, but you could just as easily use ginger ale or 7-up instead.
1 part sparkling cider
1 part high-quality orange juice
Are they really mimosas without the champagne flutes? Pour half and half into each flute, and don't worry about drinking too many.
Do as I say, not as I did. Brown sugar does not work. Lesson learned!
1/2 fresh grapefruit per person
1 tablespoon granulated white sugar per half grapefruit
Set the broiler to high. Cut grapefruit in half and place on a metal sheet pan or other broiler-safe dish (do not use glass baking dishes under the broiler!). Gently smooth the tablespoon of sugar over the top. Place under the broiler and cook 1-2 minutes (watch them!) until the sugar is caramelized. Serve with grapefruit spoons, if you have them. Otherwise a dessert spoon or butter knife works, too.
In the bleak midwinter, a sunny brunch can really lift the spirits. But don't skimp on the trappings. Light some taper candles. Pull out the champagne flutes and an ice bucket. Dig out the grapefruit spoons (I don't have any yet!). It can really make the difference. Don't have any of that? Make a list and keep your eyes peeled once you feel it's safe to go antiquing again. Fancy glassware can usually be had for a song at thrift shops, and since glass is inert, a quick wash in hot soapy water and it will be fit for use, no matter what shape it was in when you got it (so long as it's not broken or cracked!).
Have you been doing anything special lately to make winter seem less dreary?
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Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.