According to the Egg Farmers of Ontario, Oscar Wilde once proclaimed, “An egg is always an adventure; the next one may be different.” That holds for simple egg dishes but equally so for the fancy kind, namely eggs Florentine and eggs Benedict. Though each uses rather simple ingredients, it’s the technique that elevates them, as well as the creamy sauce.
The one-word wonder, in this case, is an absurdly nutritious leafy green vegetable originating in Persia: the versatile spinach plant. All kinds of variations appear in recipes for eggs Florentine, but the crucial and irreplaceable component is fresh spinach. Eggs Benedict, on the other hand, can go either way, with some chefs opting for spinach inclusion and plenty of others opting out.
The same goes for other elements, such as the type of bread and sauce included in either dish. Meats add to the continuing international nature of these two breakfast rivals — the type of bacon can be standard American style, the Canadian version, or none at all. Eggs Florentine is more likely to skip the meat.
Only minor differences separate the two but its reported origins are worlds apart. One hails from the streets of New York, while the other carries a high-brow connection to Italian royalty.
Eggs Benedict is by far the most well-known of the upscale egg dishes gracing dinner plates in America. Recipes abound for making it, but the classic, unadorned version includes poached eggs and Canadian bacon perching on a toasted English muffin, topped with plenty of creamy hollandaise sauce. Its story has a couple of narratives related to the name Benedict, but a prevailing one hails from Delmonico’s restaurant in New York City, considered the first eatery in the United States labeled a restaurant with a printed menu. The chef reportedly created it for a patron named Mrs. LeGrand Benedict.
Eggs Florentine may be less conspicuous in North America, but it exudes a more cosmopolitan nature, especially as its moniker links to the cultural hotspot of Florence, the capital city of Tuscany. King Henry II of France married Catherine de Medici of Florence in 1533, who purportedly adored spinach and slipped it into many recipes, creating Florentine versions of French dishes — including eggs.
Today’s iteration of eggs Florentine remains similar to its Benedict counterpart but traditionally, with exceptions, avoids Canadian bacon. Some chefs prefer prosciutto, cut into strips and scattered over the top, while others choose chives or add tomatoes as a cradle for the poached eggs. Personalization is expected, but it must have that layer of fresh sautéed baby spinach. Then there’s the sauce, which can be either hollandaise or mornay, a creamy white sauce made from béchamel cheese.
Speaking of variations, there’s one seemingly inconsistent with the delicate, upscale nature of eggs Florentine. That would be the ever-popular breakfast sandwich, a favored incarnation of breakfast on the go. Whether the American/Italian/French/Canadian elements of eggs Florentine work in sandwich form was tested by Food Republic recipe developer Tamara Palmer, and the result is a big thumbs-up.
The eggs Florentine breakfast sandwich recipe keeps things simple with the tried-and-true basics: poached eggs, spinach, English muffins, and hollandaise sauce. But slight alterations for portable eating include a thicker sauce and firmer eggs. The spinach is also crispier from baking in the oven with an oil coating. Palmer also suggests a pinch of paprika in the Hollandaise sauce for anyone who likes a hint of spicy flavor.
Who knew a simple little leafy green could define a centuries-old royal recipe such as eggs Florentine? As part of the amaranth plant family, along with humble chard and beets, spinach proves its mettle in taste, texture, and especially nutrients.