Monday, 25 February 2008

Pan(ettone) Perdu

W. Somerset Maugham once quipped that to eat well in England, you should have breakfast three times a day. I am assuming that he was referring to the Full English rather than a bowl of muesli, half a grapefruit and a glass of broccoli and garlic juice or whatever is de rigeur at the moment. I am also assuming that he was quipping in an era when obesity, coronary heart disease, type two diabetes and other such ailments were viewed as aspirational conditions rather than with the scorn lavished upon them today. Or perhaps they just didn’t exist. Either way, I don’t think that eating two fried eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, tomato, black pudding, baked beans, hash browns and fried bread three times a day is the most balanced diet, nor am I willing to attempt this in a very British version of ‘Supersize Me’. I just don’t think eating all my meals at the Little Chef will have the same impact as Morgan Spurlock managed with his Herculean McDonalds effort, although the prospect of a documentary called ‘Olympic Alex’ does have marginal appeal (the Little Chef’s largest offering is called, somewhat amusingly, The Olympic Breakfast but despite this I’m not sure it will be the official meal of the 2012 games, given that it contains enough calories to power a coxless four for a week). Nor will it do much for my arteries, health, weight or general well being (unless Channel Five wish to make a documentary about it in which case I might consider it). Also, why is he called the ‘Little Chef’ when he is clearly a couple of burgers short of being morbidly obese? Anyway, I digress.

Thankfully, things have improved greatly on the gastronomic front since Somerset Maugham made his astute observation but breakfasts in this fashion remain a uniquely Western concept popular solely in Britain, Ireland and America whilst the majority of Europe seems to get by on little more than a swift coffee and cigarette. Admittedly, few of us now have the time to create such lavish and heart stopping starts to the day, and even if we did the collective health consciousness of the nation would prevent most of us from indulging in such a fashion. However, there are occasions when breakfast can be a real treat as opposed to a hastily burnt piece of toast eaten on the bus. Sundays lend themselves particularly well to this sort of fayre as do national holidays and New Year’s Day was no exception.

I know the turn of the year seems like a while ago, but I remembered this particular treat only yesterday and felt I had to share it with you. Plus I’ve cooked nothing of repute recently and this is one way of climbing out of a self-induced culinary chasm. French toast, or pain perdu as it is called in France, is a fairly light in terms of the amount of work involved. It’s also a great way of using up bread that would otherwise be thrown away (or lost, hence the French term – ‘lost bread’). With a little imagination it can also become a luxurious treat: dusted with a little cinnamon and icing sugar and served with a hot chocolate is one option. Another, and the one we went for on New Year’s Day was to substitute the bread for thick slices of Italian panettone which, when dipped in beaten egg and fried in butter, goes supremely well with thick strawberry jam and steaming hot, black coffee. It may not have been the healthiest start to 2008 but it was a great way to see in the year.

Please see it's got some photos and other such treats.

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