Sometimes when I sit down to blog about something I’ve cooked, I can’t wait to give the back story. Usually when that happens, I have something to say about someone I love or a story from my childhood to tell. Otherwise, I get excited because the recipe involves chocolate (chocolate pancakes, chocolate cake, chocolate peanut butter cake, brownies, chocolate-filled fritters…. maybe I should just have a “cooking with chocolate” blog?). But then there are the recipes that, no matter how tasty, leave me stumped for something interesting to say. I’ve been sitting on a pile of photos of this ratatouille-based baked eggs dish for a few weeks now, and I just can’t think of what to write.
Now it’s five days later and I’ve returned after writing that intro, still pretty stumped. I think, though, I have realized why I’ve been slow to address the baked eggs and that’s because making baked eggs is really hard. The only emotion that erupts when I think about the recipe is damn, I didn’t quite get that right! Usually small pieces of a recipe are easy to edit after you try them out a couple times. Adjusting flavor until you get that perfect balance of salty, sweet, sour, bitter is what makes cooking so much fun. In this case, though, my downfall was a matter of technique. I just can never get the eggs right when I make a baked dish! No matter how delicious the tomatoey base tastes, the eggs are never quite right!
I’m not a total egg noob. I can hard boil an egg pretty damn well — no greyish yolks in my house, ladies — and I make some delicious, fluffy scrambled eggs, but when it comes to cooking an egg with a perfectly runny yolk, I throw my hands up in the air and ask Dan to take care of it. He has a bunch of secrets to making great fried eggs (the big tip is that your eggs need to be room temperature before you get cooking, which is a major chef trick that I am way too flighty to remember/wait for) and he’s so good at it. It’s not that Dan enables me to never have to fry eggs per se, but, what’s the phrase? Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?
With Dan always frying up breakfast, I’ve been able sit pretty and just lie to myself about how well I could cook an egg without actually ever putting my skills to the test. Kind of like how I know I’d be a pop singing sensation if Simon Cowell would just discover me already. A couple weeks ago, though, I had a real come to Jesus moment when I decided to make these baked eggs for some friends who were coming over for breakfast. The base of the dish was a spicy, Mediterranean ratatouille with tomatoes, red peppers and eggplant stewed together, which I topped with some homemade ricotta and eggs, and then baked. Baked eggs are so simple (I presumed), plus the base can be cooked a day ahead of time, a major plus when you’re having friends over first thing on a Saturday morning. Just crack the eggs and pop in the oven right at that moment when your first guest rings the doorbell for a stress-free visit.
I forgot, though, that often when you order baked eggs at a restaurant, the yolks are usually overcooked. Or the yolks are perfectly runny, but the whites aren’t quite set and, ick, there’s nothing more unappetizing than raw egg white, if you ask me. When I cooked my baked eggs, I fell right into this trap and way overcooked my eggs– though it was still pretty tasty overall. I’ve since tried a few more times to get baked eggs right, only to overcook the eggs each and every time. I read tips that have made the process a little bit better, but I think I’m so afraid of undercooked whites that there’s no hope for my poor little yolks!
I encourage you all to try out this recipe, and I edited my version based on some tips and ideas I found online, which will hopefully help your eggs to turn out perfectly. But if you do try this out, let me know how it goes! Or, if you’re a baked eggs aficionado, please leave your tips in the comments…. Maybe I should nag Dan for a few more of his secrets!
Ratatouille Baked Eggs
1 medium eggplant, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, stem and ribs removed, and sliced thinly
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 cup water
1 28-ounce can whole roasted tomatoes
10 freshly plucked, whole basil leaves
6 oz ricotta cheese
2 Tbsp chives, chopped
1. Place the diced eggplant in a bowl, cover with water and allow to soak for about 20 minutes. Drain and place on paper towels to dry, with a sprinkle of salt over the top.
2. In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet (I use a 9 inch cast iron skillet), heat oil over medium heat and once shimmering, add in onions and garlic. Season with salt. Once onions are translucent, add in sliced red pepper. Saute until soft. Then, push aside all of the softened vegetables to make a hot spot in the center of the pan. There, add in tomato paste and let toast for 30 seconds. Then, add in oregano and crushed red pepper (use only half a teaspoon if you’re averse to spice!). Stir to combine and let flavors meld for 1-2 minutes on the heat.
3. Add in eggplant, give a stir, pour in water and cover. This will allow the eggplant to steam and soften. After 3 minutes, check on the mixture and see how soft the eggplant is. If it still needs time, cover again for another 1-2 minutes and check back. If, at any time, anything begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, simply pour in another 1/4 cup of water and stir, scraping up any stuck bits!
4. Once the eggplant is soft, season with a healthy pinch or two of salt, stir, and then add in the tomatoes. First pour in the tomato juice, and then crush each tomato with your hands and drop into the mixture. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to simmer. Once simmering, toss in basil leaves and a generous grind of fresh pepper. Allow to stew for 20-30 minutes. Taste and season with additional salt or red pepper flakes if you want more spice! You can make the ratatouille 2-3 days ahead of time. If you are making ahead of time, allow it to cool and then store in your fridge! (This is great if you’re having folks over for brunch and don’t want to be crazy busy the day-of!)
5. Once you’re ready getting ready to serve, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Heat up your ratatouille to a simmer if not already simmering. Then, use the back of a spoon to make 6-8 small wells in the ratatouille. Spoon ricotta into each well and then crack an egg on top of each divot. Put your dish in the oven and bake 15-18 minutes. Take out of the oven slightly before the whites are completely set, as they’ll continue to cook out of the oven.
6. Sprinkle with chopped chives and serve hot with warm bread.