When one of our (many) nieces turned 21, she exclaimed how much she loves champagne, while holding up a bottle of Asti Spumante. It was then that we, politely but firmly, explained in our best teacher voices, that Asti is not champagne by any stretch, and invited her and her boyfriend to our house at some point for champagne brunch. It took a year, but last week, the four of us had brunch, accompanied by an educational tasting of champagne ("real" champagne, from the champagne region of France) vs. cava (Spanish sparkling wine) vs. prosecco (Italian sparkling wine). (Asti was not invited).
We started prepping the night before by making dessert (photo above), Anne Burrell's lemon semi-freddo, minus the fruit salad (as we had planned a fruit salad to go with brunch already). The recipe was a bit labor-intensive and time-consuming, but the result was worth the effort. Smooth, tart, and creamy, this half-frozen custard-and-cream concoction ended up being the perfectly light ending to our meal. (Bonus #1 - even after serving up four generous slices, we had some leftover for the following night!) (Bonus #2 - we had all those egg whites leftover so we whipped up some meringue cookies with those - post and recipe forthcoming.)
With our guests arriving at noon, we spent the morning cleaning up and getting our mise en place together so we wouldn't be stuck in the kitchen all day. We split the bagels and put them in a basket, and we mixed up a fruit salad of cantaloupe, green grapes, sliced strawberries and star fruit (photo above). We cooked the slab bacon and sweet Italian sausage and put those in the oven on low to stay warm. We made individual potato gratins (in a muffin tin) and allowed those to cool a bit. Then we got our ingredients together for the frittata. By the time they arrived, the table was set, the wines were chilled and all we had to do was cook the frittata - everything else was set to go.
Everything was delicious, especially accompanied by the "flight" of sparkling wines. The frittata was nice and fluffy, filled with fresh, light ingredients of chopped basil, shredded Italian cheeses, and halved grape tomatoes. The sausages were plump and moist, and the bacon was thick and crisp. But everyone's favorite item was the wonderfully rich individual-sized potato gratin (photo above, recipe below); we ate them all. The potatoes were bathed in cream and layered with Gruyere cheese which melted between the layers and oozed out to crisp up the sides and the top. Scrumptiously classic. Here's our recipe:
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly on a mandoline
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons white pepper
6 ounces grated gruyere cheese
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
2 ounces grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease the cups of a 12-muffin muffin tin. Layer each cup with slices of potato topped with salt, pepper and cheese. Continue to layer in this way until each muffin cup is full. Add two tablespoons of cream to each cup. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and top each stack with the parmesan cheese, dividing evenly. Return to the oven and bake for an additional 20 minutes. Allow to cool before removing from pan.
And by the way, their favorite "sparkler" happened to be our favorite, the real champagne, Veuve Clicquot. Lesson learned.