I don’t think we’ve talked enough about brunch. For me, even saying, reading or writing the word “brunch” puts me in a weekend frame of mind. It means I’m answerable to no one, my time is my own and there’s nowhere I have to be except right here pouring syrup on to this pile of pancakes. The options for brunch are endless. Full English (eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding, tomatoes)? Yes please. Shakshuka with a side of spiced fried potatoes? Always. Spinach and Gruyère Quiche with a Hash Brown Crust? Sounds interesting. Maple Caramel Bacon Crack? Bring it on.
Not everyone is quite so enthusiastic about brunch. This is partly because too often brunch is just an excuse for wild mid-morning boozing. Or a nauseating Instagram post: #savewaterdrinkchampagne, #brunchthepainaway. Chef-author Anthony Bourdain definitely isn’t a fan. He once said that brunch was just a way for restaurant owners to prey on unsuspecting diners with old leftovers cooked by junior chefs. “Brunch Menu’s translation: Old, nasty odds and ends, and $12 for two eggs with a free Bloody Mary,” he said. “Brunch is not a trend, it’s a profit centre.”
He obviously has never brunched in Delhi. From idli and dosa and dim sum to unlimited sushi and ramen; from roadside feasts to five-star hotels where you can eat your own body weight at the live pizza and tandoori stations and wash it all down with a never-ending supply of the best champagne, the Indian capital really knows how to put on a weekend spread.
Brunch is also a great time for pot-luck dining. Some of my best days in Delhi have been at friends’ houses where everyone has made a contribution to the meal. Yes, you might be eating blueberry muffins followed by chhole bhature, but that’s half the fun.
My contribution to the gut-busting brunch table would be an Italian Strata. “Strata”, meaning “layers”, is a sort of savoury bread pudding consisting of bread, eggs and cheese and whatever tasty extras you fancy adding. It’s a great option if you don’t want to work too hard for brunch—in fact, the whole thing can be assembled the day before and then simply popped into the oven when you need it. I can’t imagine eating it at any other time of the day, but then that’s the whole point of brunch.
Ham, Cheese and Tomato Strata
400g stale bread, cut into 2cm cubes
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
Salt and pepper
200g cherry tomatoes, cut in half
150g ham, chopped
150g grated Cheddar cheese
Put half the bread cubes into a well-buttered ovenproof dish. Mix together the eggs, milk, mustard, salt and pepper.
Sprinkle half the tomatoes, ham and cheese over the bread. Put the rest of the bread on top and then the rest of the tomatoes and ham, finishing with the cheese. Pour over the egg and milk mixture.
Leave the Strata, covered, in the fridge for at least a couple of hours or up to 24 hours before baking. Remove from the fridge half an hour before you want to bake it.
Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Bake the Strata, covered for 30 minutes and then uncovered for 30 minutes, until it is golden brown and puffed up and the egg mixture is no longer runny. It will take more or less time depending on the kind of bread you use. A Britannia loaf will cook in 40 minutes, my sourdough bread version took well over an hour.
The Way We Eat Now is a fortnightly column on new ways of cooking seasonal fruits, vegetables and grains.