Breakfast is a strangely single-minded affair. If it isn’t bacon and eggs with perhaps a pork banger, mushrooms, tomato — and baked beans for the cowboy in your group — it’s a polite Continental affair involving far too much bready stuff.
What is not okay is arriving in Amsterdam for the first time in your life at the age of 32 and going down to breakfast in your hotel and asking for bacon and eggs. I got some very odd looks. But it was a very long time ago. And the croissants and rolls are good for stuffing in a pocket for a snack later on while you’re gazing at Van Gogh’s sunflowers.
And what is this fad of having chips with breakfast? It seemed to start when I was out of the country earlier in the previous decade. I go away for five minutes and everyone is eating chips with their bacon and eggs. And wondering why they put on so much weight while I was away. Not the brightest idea if you think about it. Not that the Brits are any better. Breakfast there is pretty much what it is here, but piled high.
You do get the odd alternative to the good old Brit breakfast, of course. Omelettes various ways, eggs Benedict and the like, but other than that the choices are often frustratingly uninspiring. And I’m talking about breakfasts that involve cooking here, not cereals that you just pour into a bowl and dollop stuff on.
But when it comes to having friends around for breakfast at this time of the year, when you’re hoping for a lovely sunny morning for the occasion, it’s worth trying to come up with something a tad more original. The starting point was a jar of red onion marmalade which I had been given by chef Andy Lee at the Cape Town Hilton last week. I’ll set out his recipe here as well, as it is truly delicious.
Basket in hand, I scoured the shelves and fridges at my local Woolies for ideas, and found a pack of slices of round gammon steaks. In a fridge was a slab of haloumi cheese from the Langeberg mountains region, and in another I spotted punnets of intriguing cress still growing in a smattering of soil.
These are called ‘micro greens’ and are in favour with chefs these days as pretty garnishes for all manner of dishes, but this is the first time I have seen them sold so commercially. There was mustard cress, and brocooli cress, so I bought a punnet of the latter.
Right next to them was another innovation – a 70g pack of ‘tomaraisins’. Now that name is too cute to be allowed to survive (like the horrendous ‘peppadews’) but the product is a clever idea – tiny sundried cherry tomatoes, sun-sweetened, which do look like red raisins and have a nice burst of flavour. So in the basket they went with a pack of heat and eat ciabatta rolls. (BY the way, with hindsight these were not very nice … I’m going to have to try making my own, but the ones from Doppio Zero are great, if there’s a branch to hand.)
All of these ingredients went into a breakfast dish with a difference: a half oven-baked ciabatta roll topped with onion marmalade, this in turn topped with a round of gammon steak on which you pile some ‘tomaraisins’ that you’ve marinated for a little while, and two or three slivers, like soldiers, of lightly fried haloumi.
You could include a fried or preferably a poached egg, in which case that would go on top of the gammon steak before you arrange the tomaraisins and slivers of haloumi on top. You could also use slices of Camembert or Brie instead of the haloumi, but in that case instead of frying (as you would the haloumi) you’d gratinate the whole dish under the grill for a few minutes to toast the Camembert just a little.
Either buy some onion marmalade or make chef Andy Lee’s version: You need:
1kg red onions
500ml unsweetened red grape juice
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of thyme
Peel and thinly slice the onions. Fry the onions in batches with the sugar until they are golden brown and caramelised. Do not have the heat too high or the sugar will burn. Transfer the onions to a pot and add the remaining ingredients. Simmer gently until the liquid has almost evaporated and the onions are soft. Remove the herbs and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Use as a condiment for cheese, paté and cold meats.
Gammon steaks with haloumi and onion marmalade
4 wood-smoked cured gammon steaks
2 heat and eat ciabatta rolls
1 punnet micro leaves (e.g. broccoli cress or mustard cress)
1T extra virgin olive oil
1T white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
4 T onion marmalade
To make the gammon steaks with haloumi, start by making a dressing of 1T extra virgin olive oil with 1T white wine, 1T honey and a little salt and pepper. Mix and steep the ‘tomaraisins’ in this for an hour. Altenatively, you could use actual raisins or sultanas.
Heat the ciabatta rolls in a 180° oven for 8 minutes and keep warm.
Panfry the gammon steaks for two minutes on each side in a hot frying pan in just a film coating of butter or olive oil. Spoon marmalde onto a halved ciabatta, place in the centre of the plate and top with a gammon steak. Spoon the macerated raisins (whatever) on this, and some onto the plate for a garnish. Fry the haloumi in thin slices very quickly — just seconds will do it —and place on top. Sprinkle with snipped cress.
(If you’d rather not use wine in the dressing, substitute a lttle lemon or orange juice.)
If your party is ravenous (or British) it might be best to do two of these each.
First published in Weekend Argus October 2011