Eggs Baked in Whole Tomatoes
The oldest cookbook I own is called the Modern Priscilla Cook Book: One Thousand Recipes Tested and Proved at the Priscilla Proving Plant. It was published in 1924, and when I open it, the stale smell of aged paper is immediately apparent. When I say it's the oldest cookbook I own, I should qualify. I have a copy of the Boston Cooking School Cook Book, but it's a reprint of the 1884 volume, whereas the Modern Priscilla is itself actually from 1924. I found it in some used book sale or other, almost for free. The Modern Priscilla was a lifestyle magazine of sorts, with a focus on home, garden and needlepoint, and was published from 1887 to 1930 in Massachusetts, first in Lynn and later in Boston. Evidently, supplementary publications were offered, such as catalogs for gifts and needlework accessories, and a cookbook.
It's always such a treat to peek back in time, and listen in on the nutritional/culinary advice offered to the modern housewife at the turn of the century. This recipe is from a section titled "Egg and Cheese Dishes" and comes with a handy introduction called "Facts to Remember When Planning Egg and Cheese Dishes." For your elucidation: "Both eggs and cheese have an important place in the dietary, because they are rich in tissue-building material and contain valuable minerals and vitamins." Well I'm sold.
Honestly, though, the idea of baking an egg in a whole tomato is one of those ingenious ways to use fresh, whole foods, so characteristic of the classic, "peasant" cuisines that modernity has seem largely to have forgotten. You find little gems like this occasionally, when the whole becomes so much more than its parts. To most of us, shirred eggs are nothing terribly inventive (although resolutely delicious), and the term simply means an egg baked in a dish with a covering of cream or milk and sometimes topped with breadcrumbs. Obviously in the Priscilla preparation, there's no cream, but you do get the benefit of the bacon drippings being released over the egg as it bakes. So if you like a runny yolk (and really, is there anything simpler and yet more decadent?), roasted tomato and bacon, this is an easy, delicious and unexpected way to serve breakfast.
Eggs Baked in Whole Tomatoes
3 tablespoons buttered crumbs (I used Panko)
3 slices bacon
Oven preheated to 325
Cut a lid off the top of each tomato and scoop out the core and seeds (I find a grapefruit spoon works well). Brake one egg over each tomato, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover with a thin layer of bread crumbs, and finally top with a slice of bacon. Bake for 15 minutes, then flip the bacon over, and continue baking for another 15 minutes. After about 1/2 an hour, your egg-whites should have turned opaque and solidified, and the yolk should still be runny (be careful about hotspots in your oven. I made 4 tomatoes, and while 3 were perfect, one ended up more hard boiled). Place the tomatoes under the broiler for about 1 minute (watch them closely!) to allow the bacon to fully crisp.
There are so many possibilities with this recipe. You could add a sprinkle of red paprika for the pepper, or top with cheese rather than bacon. I suppose that if you went the cheese route you might broil it for a bit longer and cut down on the oven time. I'd also imagine that little squares of fried polenta would go beautifully with this, to help mop up the runny yolk. Of course, there's always toast, that classic partner of the poached egg.