Casseroles get a bum rap. That is, they are not trendy anymore, nor are they considered healthy. Also, most of us don’t want to eat cream of mushroom soup poured over soft vegetables, the traditional 1950s-era casserole base.
There are, of course, great casserole recipes using fresh herbs and vegetables. Baked in the oven so all ingredients meld together in a wonderful, homey, delicious creation, a good casserole feeds a crowd and is easy on the cook. Casseroles need a cheesy crust and a moist, herby interior. Think lasagna as a prime example.
This Basque egg casserole recipe is an adaptation of a breakfast dish we occasionally serve at the B Street House. The original recipe came from a Basque chef, now twice modified for a dinner recipe. For our B Street House Basque eggs, we omit the potatoes and place the pepper mixture on the bottom of 8-inch, oven-safe ramekins; add eggs, parsley and cheese; and bake. The ramekins allow for easy individual portions. Potatoes are served on the side.
The secret to this casserole recipe is the pepper mix. I like to use dark red Gypsy peppers or red sweet Italian peppers with the multicolored bell peppers, if available. Gypsy peppers are more traditional to the recipe and are somewhat more complex in flavor than the common bell peppers. They may be difficult to find, but do try the farmer’s market. Also try Hungarian yellow peppers, or for extra heat, use a small poblano pepper in the mix. If you like even more heat, try adding one-eighth to one-half teaspoon of red chili flakes to the tomato/pepper mix.
BASQUE EGG CASSEROLE
1 pound fingerling potatoes
1½ pounds finely sliced mixed fresh red, yellow and orange bell peppers (or a mix of available fresh peppers)
1 small to medium-sized sweet Vidalia or Maui onion, finely sliced
6 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup hearty, robust red wine
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
1 28-ounce can peeled tomatoes (or about 6 large fresh ripe tomatoes)
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 bay leaf broken into large pieces
6 large eggs
3 to 4 teaspoons fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
4 ounces Spanish Manchego cheese or aged Basque cheese, shredded (about ½ cup packed)
Place fingerling potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with water. Place over medium heat on stove top and bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook until just fork tender. Remove from heat, drain, cool, and slice into half-inch-thick rounds. Set aside while making peppers.
Sauté peppers, onion and garlic over medium heat in a large frying pan on stove top about 3 to 5 minutes. Add wine, vinegar, tomatoes, sugar, salt, pepper, paprika and bay leaf and simmer on low or medium-low heat for 30 minutes until liquid is reduced. Break up tomatoes with a spoon during the cooking process. Stir occasionally.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place sliced fingerling potatoes in the bottom of an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan, or other oven-safe 2-quart baking dish. Remove large pieces of bay leaf from tomato/pepper mixture. Pour the tomato/pepper mixture over the potatoes in the pan. Make 6 indentations in the pepper mixture and crack an egg into each of the indentations. Top each egg yolk with the finely chopped fresh parsley. Sprinkle the Manchego cheese all over the top of the eggs and pepper casserole.
Place in 375-degree oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until eggs are set and cooked through. For high elevations, bake 20 to 22 minutes and check eggs for appropriate doneness. Serves six.
This recipe is gluten free, low-fat and vegetarian. Prepare the potatoes-and-pepper mixture ahead of time, if desired, and refrigerate until ready to assemble and bake. Serve with a side of green vegetables such as sautéed Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard or kale, or a tossed green salad.
Carolyn Eichin owns B Street House Bed and Breakfast in Virginia City.