The name is pretentious, but the leftovers couldn’t be any more modest. “European Breakfast” is what we call it when we pull out all the stops for overnight houseguests. And did I mention that “all the stops” is another way of describing the process of feeding people and cleaning out the refrigerator? This is also what we do on Sunday mornings when it’s just us and we don’t have any better ideas of what to eat.
The European Breakfast got its name because the first time I prepared it, I had Germany in my head. A few years ago—well, it was pre-kid, so maybe I should say a number of years ago—we went to Germany and stayed at a pension with a kitchen and dining room where we woke up to a simple, wonderful, hodgepodge of food each morning. Two things have stayed in my mind since that time: the soft-boiled eggs and the pretzels. The soft-boiled eggs were cooked exactly, perfectly. Three minutes more, they would have been hard-boiled eggs. Three minutes less, they would have been a runny mess. The big, doughy, soft, brown pretzels were memorable because they were more like bread than pretzels, and because they were pretzels and they were being served for breakfast. Beyond that, all I recall was an assortment of meats, with wonderful summer sausages, and an assortment of cheese. There was also fruit, some other types of bread or pastries, and the simple, plain, unflavored, creamy yogurt that I try to make at home. It’s not exactly plain yogurt, not exactly Greek yogurt.
I think we ate the breakfast at the pension for about eight days, and I’ve been trying to recreate it for at least eight years. I fall short of an exact replication: several items make it difficult. The soft-boiled eggs are a big challenge, and the pretzels make it impossible. Here is what my knock-off version typically includes.
hard-boiled eggs (one per person)
a selection of meats (rolled up lunch meat, sliced summer sausage, pepperoni slices, leftover turkey or chicken pulled into pieces, etc.)
cheese slices (whatever is in the fridge!)
any fruit that is on hand (grapes look pretty, as do clementines, oranges sliced into wedges, pineapple rings, whole strawberries, etc.)
vegetables (something that works for breakfast such as cherry tomatoes, small broccoli florets, black olives)
bread (blueberry muffins, a baguette, slices of toast—whatever is around)
yogurt (plain with some honey drizzled on top, Greek, or flavored yogurt)
I usually end up doing this over the holidays if there are guests in the house. It works particularly well because at some point, there was usually a cheese, meat or vegetable tray set out, and this idea utilizes the food that is leftover from the tray. Sometimes I simply don’t have enough of any one thing left in the house to serve breakfast, and putting out a combination of items allows me to piece together a breakfast everyone can eat whenever they wake up, especially since the food is typically all cold items.
No matter how pieced together our “European Breakfast,” I always try to make it look pretty, which isn’t hard. Throw a tablecloth over the island, flip the switch on the fake candle, pick the lone last flower from the backyard. It starts out shoddy, but when it’s all put together, even though it’s still not the same as Europe, it’s pretty and delicious in its own way