Friday, January 22, 2010

all roads lead to strata


We're big fans of eggs in this house. Well, maybe it's more accurate to say the husband is a huge egg fan & I go through phases. If I think about them too long, I get freaked out. It's not that I think that the yokes are melted baby chicks (anymore) but as a non-animal-as-food kinda gal, eggs sometimes put me into a philosophical food quandary. More often than that, though, they just strike me as kind of... gross.

BUT! The majority of Saturday mornings, I am all in favor of those enigmatic, nutrient-packed little balls of fun. We're big time into big weekend breakfasting. We used to eat breakfast in bed every weekend, would you believe it, but that was before the kid (dog) came along. Now we sit on the couch & watch Soccer AM.

Long story long, I was quite thrilled to come across a new-to-me way to prepare my eggs, other than scrambled, badly poached or omelettized. As I delve further into slower, more thoughtful homecooking that takes just that bit more effort, I find myself rewarded left & right. Take this Italian breakfast dish, for instance.

A strata, as far as I can tell, is basically made up of many eggs, milk, bread, cheese & some patience while waiting. (Strata meaning layers in Italian & uh geology - though I was getting romantically confused by Fellini's film La Strada, which means The Road - it's close, right?)

Is there a traditional vegetable/meat used by traditionalists? Not sure. The recipe that piqued my interest came courtesy of Smitten Kitchen, involving my favorite leafy green. As usual her drool-worthy photos are probably what convinced me that a dish that requires preparation the night before, then patient waiting through sleep & another 45 minutes in the oven the next morning, would be worth it. (Neil needed some convincing - he cooks fast.) But as I've said, I'm into slow recipes these days, putting in the extra time to get it right, experimenting & spending QT in the kitchen.

So I deviated from the Smitten recipe & that's OK. A simple search online, you'll find enthusiasts everywhere pairing portobello mushrooms & asparagus, tomatoes, snausages, fakin' bacon, broccoli, you get the idea.

As usual, my tendency to deviate from recipes (dear god - 9 eggs?) means I can't transcribe exactly what I did with mine. But really, I think you can judge it mostly by eye & personal preference, also taking into account the size of your baking dish & how many eggs you want to consume today.


In the end we used 5 or 6 eggs. I think I started with 5 then realized I needed just a bit more coverage of the assembled jumble so I whisked up another. Honestly, I can see where they came up with 9 eggs because I could have used more, but like I said, if I made it we would have eaten it. And half a dozen melted baby chickens just seems like too much for one morning.

I sauteed a small onion in butter (how decadent), adding freshly ground pepper, sea salt, thyme, basil & a touch of hot chili pepper. For a little color I added sliced red pointed pepper. Then I tossed several handfuls of spinach into the pan to wilt & removed the pan from the heat.

In a bowl I whisked all those eggs with a couple cups of milk (the real stuff, which I bought especially for this - I'll try soy next time). I probably added more of the spices to the egg mix too. Why not, right?

I tried my best to cube a day old baguette of an Italian-type bread - at least several cups worth. You want a lot of cubes, people.

I buttered my new, fabulous stoneware baking dish (love it) & layered the bread cubes, the vegetable mix & grated cheddar repeatedly until dish was full.

I then poured the egg mixture over it all (adding that extra egg when it looked like the whole pile wouldn't be covered). You should ideally cover all the fillings with the liquids, though I like the way the bread cubes poke out of the top. A nice rustic touch. I've seen recipes that call for half & half and full slices of white bread. That just seems wrong.

Then, to your hungry loved one's dismay, wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap & stick it in the fridge for the night. You can then go back to watching terrible Friday night TV, whilst explaining to said loved one why you just looked like you were making scrambled eggs at night but came back into the living room empty handed.

The next morning, distract your other half with Soccer AM while you bake your fancy egg dish for about 45 or whenever the top of the strata is gloriously golden & a knife stuck in doesn't come out dripping in raw eggs (cause that would mean it's not done). Mine might have taken about an hour but then again my oven sucks.

Next time, I'll try soy milk to make it more heart friendly, a more interesting or sharper cheese, perhaps some different veggies for variety. This one came out lovely & subtle in spice. But we like a kick. A nice bonus was that the small bit of leftovers became denser at room temperature & made for a yummy afternoon snack that could be eaten by hand. An awesome brunch dish that can be made seemingly light years ahead of time. But please don't call it a casserole - it's far too fancy for that.

1 comment:

  1. looks sooooo good! There is a place in Ogunquit (or is it WEllS) that is famous for their ham strata (Congdon's Donut Shop). Ham and Cheese and Eggs, salty breakfast - dont have to eat for the rest of the day - goodness. There is ALWAYS a wait for brunch but boy is it worth it!


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