You can barely swing a cat in any brunch establishment without running into shakshuka: a North-African/Middle Eastern inspired skillet dish of tomatoes and other vegetables, melded into a spicy stew redolent of cumin and chiles, with eggs baked on top. This is an excellent development and super delicious if you are a fan of the spicy, and specifically a fan of the spicy for breakfast or brunch. But for some delicate souls, brunching needs to be a bit gentler, a bit calmer, less of a shock to the system so early in the day.
Enter tomato pudding. My first experience of tomato pudding was as a side dish. My grandmother used to make it for the occasional holiday meal, and the sweet and sour dish was one of those weirdly distinctive treats. Essentially a sort of savory bread pudding with an agrodolce note, it is excellent pals with pretty much any meat you can think of. It is also delicious eaten with the fingers in cold chunks standing in front of the fridge the next day. It’s become a go-to for me for dinner parties where I have guests with dietary restrictions, since it is naturally vegetarian and dairy-free, and can easily be made vegan by swapping out butter for olive oil or coconut oil, and even gluten free with a different breadstuff.
But where it shines unexpectedly is as a brunch dish. The tomato pudding base can be made three to four days in advance. It only gets better the longer it sits. It is your bread, vegetable and egg all in one neat package, so all it really wants is a side of bacon or sausage and maybe some fruit to complete a meal. It has enough sweet notes to fill that desire for sweet and salty together, but not so cloying as to feel sugary—which means you can still put out a basket of breakfast pastries and not think twice. And you can always put some hot sauces and chile flakes on the buffet for the shakshuka fans.
Tomato Pudding with Baked Eggs
Tomato pudding is a unique side dish for almost any meal, but for a wonderful and easy brunch dish, just add eggs on top. Even better, the tomato pudding base can be made up to 3 days ahead and then reheated and eggs added the day of your brunch.
- Yields: Serves two to four
Preheat your oven to 375°F and set one of your oven racks in the middle position.
Cut your slices of bread on the diagonal for a pretty presentation, or into cubes if in a hurry. Toss the slices or cubes in the butter until well covered. Grease a medium 2-quart casserole dish, and arrange the slices or cubes in it in 1 layer.
In a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat, combine the brown sugar, tomato puree, tomato paste and orange juice. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to your taste.
Pour the hot mixture over the buttered bread, and bake, uncovered, until the pudding is slightly puffy and the corners of the bread are lightly browned. Remove from the oven, and turn your oven to 425°F. (If you are making this pudding to serve later, let cool at room temp and then store, covered in foil, in your fridge for up to 3 days. The day you want to serve, let come back to room temperature for an hour before reheating in a 350°F oven, covered, for 20-25 minutes until hot before continuing with the recipe.)
Using the bottom of a drinking glass, jar or ramekin, press 4 divots into the hot tomato pudding. Crack a single egg into each divot, and place the casserole back into your oven watching carefully for your desired level of doneness on your eggs. Every oven is different, but 8-10 minutes for cooked whites and gooey yolks is usually the average, just keep a close eye on it and remember that the eggs will continue to cook a bit for the first few minutes out of the oven. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve hot.