SKILLET-BAKED EGGS WITH MUSHROOMS AND SPINACH

SKILLET-BAKED EGGS WITH MUSHROOMS AND SPINACH

From Basic to Brilliant, Y'all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company by Virginia Willis (Ten Speed Press, 2011). Copyright © 2011 by Virginia Willis. Photographs copyright © 2011 by Hélène Dujardin. All rights reserved. Used with permission of the publisher.

Serves 4

As a professional cook, I have a wall of cookware: copper from France; enamel-coated French or Dutch ovens (the nationality depends on the manufacturer); high-tech, stainless-steel sauté pans; thin pots for boiling pasta. If I go into a fancy, tricked-out designer kitchen, and there's a rack with all the same kind of pots, I know that person doesn't actually cook. Different pots are needed for different reasons. And even with all my expensive professional cookware, the pan I reach for the most is, without hesitation, my grandmother's cast-iron skillet.

I am generally a fan of using frozen spinach in recipes that require a lot of spinach. It's always a good idea to have a bag or box in the freezer for a quick meal, and certainly on a weekend morning.

16 ounces fresh baby spinach or 1 (12-ounce) bag thawed frozen leaf spinach
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, finely chopped
6 ounces mixed mushrooms (such as cremini, chanterelle, morel, shiitake, and white button), thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (1/2 ounce)

1. Position the oven rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 450°F. Prepare an ice-water bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water.

2. To cook the fresh spinach, heat 1/2 inch water in a large skillet over high heat. Add half the spinach and cook until wilted, about 30 seconds. Add the remaining spinach, cover, and cook over medium-high heat until tender, about 60 seconds. Drain well in a colander, then set the colander with spinach in the ice-water bath to set the color and stop the cooking, making sure the spinach is submerged. Remove the colander with spinach to drain. Working with a handful at a time, squeeze the freshly cooked, or thawed frozen, spinach between two dinner plates or by hand to remove any excess liquid. Set aside.

3. In the same skillet, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the mushrooms, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and any liquid is released, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the cream, nutmeg, and spinach. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat.

4. Using the back of a spoon, make 4 nests in the spinach-cream mixture in the skillet. Break an egg into each indentation. Season the eggs with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the cheese. Bake until the whites are set and the yolks are still runny, about 8 minutes. Serve immediately.

Brilliant: Presentation

Oeufs en Cocotte

Ouefs en Cocotte is made by cooking an egg in a petite casserole or ramekin, nestled on top of other ingredients, including vegetables or meat, with an optional topping of grated cheese. Cocotte translates to "casserole," but also "hen" -- as well as "love" or "darling." When I was working in France, my chef's father would affectionately call me cocotte. You can imagine my immediate concern that he was calling me a casserole. There is something absolutely "darling" about serving individual dishes of baked eggs.

To do so, simply divide the spinach-cream mixture among 4 small ramekins. Top each with an egg, then sprinkle with the cheese. Bake until the whites are set and the yolks are still runny, about 8 minutes.