Breakfast of champions

Breakfast of champions

If, as we're told, a small grappa can turn an ordinary early-morning coffee and cake into the colazione dei campioni-the breakfast of champions, what's the breakfast of losers? A cold slice of pizza, maybe with a cigarette butt on it. Anyway, we've tried them both,

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Thu 02 Oct 2008 12:00 AM

If, as we’re told, a small grappa
can turn an ordinary early-morning coffee and cake into the colazione dei
campioni-the breakfast of champions, what’s the breakfast of losers? A cold
slice of pizza, maybe with a cigarette butt on it. Anyway, we’ve tried them
both, and there’s something lacking from each.

 

The aphorism used to run like this: breakfast like a
king, lunch like a prince, dine like a pauper. In Tuscany, of course, you can
break-fast like a king, lunch like an archduke and dine like an emperor fairly
easily. But from a dietary point of view, it’s better to eat your bigger meals
as far away from your bedtime as possible. If you have the time, liberty and
inclination to do so, getting your five-a-day in before lunchtime removes the
obligation to do so for the rest of the day.

 

Having a main meal at breakfast can be an money-saving
tactic: you don’t feel the urge to buy extravagant main ingredients, as you’re
too busy filling yourself up and starting your engine, and any extravagances go
a long way. For example, salmon, beef, cheese and green vegetables take second
fiddle to large doses of carbs, fruit and protein taken from sources such as
eggs. However, even the smallest amount of any of the aforementioned
ingredients turns a breakfast into something really memorable.

 

Smoked salmon at breakfast ranks highest among my own
personal guilty pleasures; there’s nothing that makes it particularly ‘guilty’
from a dietary point of view, and the amount of smoked salmon you need to put
some ‘oomph’ into a plate of scrambled eggs is barely worth considering from a
financial point of view (seriously, 30 grams of scrappy leftovers will do-less
is more) but I’d far rather eat it once a year-on Christmas Eve, for example,
after a bowl of cinnamon porridge and a mimosa-rather than every day before
work. Some people feel the same about steak and eggs or French toast and bacon.
Keep your indulgences infrequent to savour them better.

 

If you approach breakfast like you
would dinner (if you have the time) and think of it as a meal broken into a
series of components, you’ll be satisfied. Of course, during the week you might
not have the time, so then it’s far better to plan ahead a bit and have
something good to eat when you’re flailing around trying to get into your work
clothes. For example, try making your own muesli-soaking oats and mixing them
with dried fruits, unsalted nuts and seeds. Pour a bit of apple juice on it
before you eat it, instead of milk: it’s delicious.

 

Given that you do have liberty to approach breakfast at
a more leisurely pace, one of the first things that you can do is try to remove
the mental block that many have when considering the kind of things you should
or shouldn’t be eating in the morning. A lot of English people react with
horror when they travel to other European countries and see the inhabitants
eating onions, fish and meat (that isn’t bacon) with their coffee and over the
newspaper; similarly, the idea of an American-style brekkie with blueberry
muffins and syrup-drenched sausages can be a bit off-putting. This is a
needless aversion, of course, but remember that with strongly flavoured
ingredients, less is more in the morning.

 

If you’re tired of coffee and
brioche, and fancy trying something using Italian ingredients with a decidedly
English or American slant; we’d recommend that the meal revolve around one of
the vegetables that you can find here in such glorious abundance; particularly
mushrooms or tomato. A large, ripe tomato cut in half and drizzled with a
little olive oil, plenty of fresh parsley, some salt and pepper and even
(gasp!) a little garlic, then put in the oven until the skin begins to shrink
away from the rest of the fruit makes a perfect central ingredient. Similarly,
field or white mushrooms should be cooked in a frying pan with a little olive
oil or butter; once they’re in, leave them alone and stir them infrequently, as
constant prodding makes them soggy. After about five minutes, remove to an oven
dish (perhaps next to the tomato) and add herbs (again, we recommend parsley,
but a small amount of sage also livens up a mouthful of mushroom) and seasoning,
then cook in a hot oven for 10 minutes or so.

 

You can add to these two
ingredients-eggs, some of the tomato bread from this fortnight’s recipe,
perhaps ham or sausage if you’re a meat-eater-and soon you’ll have fueled your
engine and can look forward to a long day of . . . well, wander-ing around in
the autumn sunshine.

 

 

TOMATO BREAD

1 large, ripe tomato

1 tsp sugar

25 fresh yeast

500g strong white flour

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp olive oil,

plus a little more for the tomato

A little dried rosemary

 

 

1 Cut the
tomato into very small pieces and spread them on a tray. Sprinkle over the
rosemary and oil, and 1 tsp of the sugar. Season.

2 Heat an
oven to 180 deg C and cook the tomato for 15 minutes, or until dried out

3 Mix the yeast and the
remaining sugar with 300ml warm water. Stir with a wooden spoon and leave to
dissolve and become frothy.

4 Place the flour in a large
non-metal bowl and put a well in the middle. Add 1 tsp salt and the olive oil.
Mix in the dry, seasoned tomato.

5 Pour the yeast mix into the
flour and stir well with your hands, forming into a smooth dough. Turn this out
onto a floured surface and knead well for 5 to 10 minutes, until very springy.

6 Place in
the bowl, cover with a tea-towel, and leave in a warm, draught-free place for
an hour. The dough should double in size. (If you prefer, you can place the
dough in a plastic bag with a little oil on it to stop it from sticking; it’s
up to you.)

7 Cut the dough in half and,
again on a floured surface knead and stretch one half to an oblong shape. Fold
the top side into the middle, and then the bottom, forming a loaf shape. Roll
this backwards and forwards to round it off. Lay on a baking tray, and slit the
top lightly with a sharp knife, four or five times on a diagonal. Repeat with
the other half of the dough.

8 Cover again with a tea-towel
and allow to rise for 20 minutes.

9 Place in an oven preheated to
180 deg C and bake for 20 minutes. When the loaves are done, they will sound hollow
when you tap them on the bottom. Place on a wire rack to cool, then serve.

 

 

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