I recently had the pleasure of hosting a dear childhood friend for Sunday brunch. True to style, I spent the night before ignoring toys and books scattered around the living room (and dust bunnies gathered under the couch), choosing instead to fuss over the menu: a frittata infused with saffron dotted with scallion, good olive oil and za’atar drizzled over a mound of labne, garlicky wilted greens brightened with a splash of lemon juice. And freshly squeezed orange juice—for mimosas.
With all those flavors, I could have just set out some good bread and called it done. But fresh pita would be too much of a fuss for a relaxed Sunday morning, and I have yet to perfect my technique for a crusty baguette. Clearly the meal called for some sort of starchy counterpoint, and if its texture was not going to remarkable, flavor would have to pick up the slack.
If you’ve been reading the Bounty Hunter for a while, you may have noticed that muffin tins are among my favorite kitchen items for sheer convenience. It is far quicker to pop in a few paper muffin cups (or have my kids do it for me) than to grease even a single loaf pan. And the resulting single-serving portions—complete with their own on-the-go wrappers—can be set out at the table without any fuss over slicing or plating.
Despite my leanings in earlier recipes, I do not limit myself to sweet muffins. Over the past year, I had made these savory tidbits to accompany simple scrambled eggs. With roasted red pepper, feta and fresh basil, they would have been a wonderful solution for brunch. Except...I didn’t have any fresh basil. And the half-empty jar of roasted red peppers in the back of the refrigerator was doubling as the host for a colony of fuzzy white mold. Beautiful, certainly, in its own way—but hardly edible.
Unwilling to go the store late on a Saturday night, I began rooting around in the pantry for appropriate substitutions. Sundried tomatoes would match the roasted peppers in color and provide a similar umami profile. In the refrigerator door, I found a few sprigs of rosemary to fill the “fresh herbs” role. Guided by the original recipe, I decided to balance its resinous leaves with sweeter, earthier thyme—dried, alas. The feta would stay, of course, though I briefly considered grating some sharp cheddar instead.
I had already tweaked the recipe a bit over time, including a second egg for added richness and swapping out some of the all-purpose flour for whole wheat. And I reasoned that I couldn’t do much damage with a combination of mix-ins that would taste fabulous together on a pizza. So I plowed ahead with my substitute ingredients, unafraid of the consequences.
The results certainly varied more from the original than I expected, but not undesirably. Chewy bits of tomato lent more substance than pliant roasted peppers, and without basil’s usual minty brightness the muffins took on a heartier character. Each distinct flavor—tomatoes, feta, rosemary—seemed as if it had been plucked from a jar or wooden crate in the cellar, the last of the food carefully stored away at the end of the season. The ingredients may have actually come from a local grocery store, but nonetheless these muffins made for a pleasant combination and fitting farewell to winter.
Sundried tomato, Feta and Herb Muffins.
Adapted from Leite's Culinaria
Yield: 12 muffins
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
- 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk, or 1/2 cup plain yogurt mixed with 1/2 cup milk
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 oz feta, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)
- 4 oz sundried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan or line with paper cup liners. In a 3-quart or larger mixing bowl, combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, oregano and salt; set aside.
In a second mixing bowl, beat eggs until slightly frothy. Beat in buttermilk and olive oil until thoroughly combined.
Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and mix with a large spoon until just combined; do not overmix. Batter will be somewhat lumpy. Fold in feta, sun-dried tomatoes and rosemary with a few quick strokes.
Spoon batter into prepared muffin pan, filling cups almost to the top. Bake 20-24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean or with only a few crumbs attached.
Let muffins cool for about 5 minutes before removing from pan. If you used paper liners, they should slip off easily. Serve immediately. Leftovers may be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 days or frozen; wrap in aluminum foil and rewarm for 5 minutes in a 400 degree oven before serving.