I could write a book about the food we’ve eaten since leaving for our travels last July. For the most part, it would be a bland, grease-spattered book full of descriptions of oversalted (yet still somehow tasteless) sauces, salads made with wilting, brown-edged iceberg lettuce, way too many Milanos while we were in the States, and it would end with a 45-page rant about how I have started to absolutely loathe going to restaurants. There would be the occasional chapter about food surprises, mostly all after leaving for our overseas travels. There would definitely be a few paragraphs devoted to all of the buttery croissants and pain au chocolats I ate in Paris; the cao lau from Hoi An which I’m still dreaming about, six weeks later; the earthy, unfiltered sake we had in a tiny mountain town in Japan.
For the most part, though, the last year has not been great, food-wise. One of my favourite parts of travelling is discovering local cuisine, but I have to admit that at this point, I am so completely over eating out. We’ve been in very few places with kitchens, and when we do have one, I will basically do almost anything to avoid restaurant food. When we do have the good fortune to have access to a kitchen, I don’t want anything too fussy or overly complicated. I want flavours that are familiar and comforting to me. This often means eggs, or pasta, perhaps something as stupidly simple as a grilled cheese sandwich. I don’t get too adventurous when we’re cooking on the road, since if a dish goes awry we don’t have a pantry full of back-up ingredients.
This past week we were in Bruges (where we watched the fantastic namesake movie) and we were very, very happy to be in an apartment for the whole week. This was such a treat; you have no idea. For seven whole days we nested and had the luxury of two separate rooms (three if you count the bathroom!). Our apartment was a five-minute walk from the main square, a walk that took us down cobblestone streets and past canals with swans floating in them. It was almost like a way, way, way less awful Disneyland.
We didn’t have even one dinner out, and this made me happier than I can say. We made a lot of good meals while we were in Bruges, but the standout one for me (and one I repeated two more times since I am totally a creature of habit) was a slightly crazy egg dish inspired by my love of yogurt, İskender kebab, and this fantastic sausage we found at the local grocery store.
This is a very loose recipe, and I’m sure that there are a number of ways it could be tweaked and improved to suit your taste buds. For me, though, this was messy, unphotogenic perfection.
Faux-Turkish Eggs and Tomato Sauce with Meatballs and Brown Butter
For the tomato sauce:
In a medium-sized pot, heat up a tablespoon of olive oil. While the oil is heating, remove the casing from one or two sausages and pinch the meat into small balls (heh, heh — but seriously, they should be around 3 cm in diameter), then add them to the pot and cook until brown on all sides. Throw in a couple of finely minced garlic cloves, fry for about a minute, then add one zucchini, cut into quartered slices. Fry everything together until zucchini starts to go transparent, then add a jar of your favourite tomato sauce, and a glug of whatever wine you most assuredly have on hand if you’re a lush like me. Bring to almost a boil, then turn it down to simmer while you finish the rest, adjusting for seasonings.
For the brown butter and egg:
On medium to medium-high heat, melt a tablespoon or two of unsalted butter in a small saucepan (preferably metal so you can see the colour of the butter change). The butter will melt, then foam a bit, and eventually start to turn a light amber colour. Also, it will smell like heaven and you will want to drink it with a spoon, but DON’T DO IT. Take the pan off the heat just after the butter turns light brown; the colour will deepen even after removed from heat and then you won’t risk burning it.
If you really want to gild the lily here, you can pour the brown butter into a jar, leaving just a tiny bit in the pan, then fry your egg in the browned butter remnants. This is probably a good idea. In any case, fry an egg any way you like it and remove from heat.
Ladle a good amount of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a bowl (this must be eaten from a bowl. You are a monster if you think otherwise), followed by a few spoonfuls of plain yogurt. Slide the fried egg on top, then pour the brown butter over the egg and watch it drip down into the sauce. Serve with buttered toast, some dark Belgian beer, and a deep sense of satisfaction at cooking your 27-year-old self a meal.