Stratas are the country cousins of the quiche. They are both one-dish meals, often served for brunch; both are made with eggs; and they can be filled with a wide variety of ingredients. But stratas are so easy to make—no fussing with pastry—that even a child can make them! Stratas are layered, like lasagne but you are not fighting wet slippery noodles. Use cubes of bread to build the stratifications. And making this dish is much faster than it takes to form those geologic layers visible in the Grand Canyon—though you want to start a day before so the bread can absorb the milk and eggs.
You can add flavor with chiles, capers, olives, fresh herbs, or spices (cumin, coriander, paprika). Make strata with leftover chicken or turkey, cooked sausage or bacon, or make it luxurious with crab or lobster. Or go vegetarian and choose a sharp cheddar, gruyere, romano, or other strongly flavored cheese. Add tomatoes, potatoes, spinach, chard, caramelized onions, colorful peppers, mushrooms… Choose a bread that compliments your other ingredients: French, wheat, rye, or even English muffins. I have not tried, but you can probably make a dessert strata along the lines of a bread pudding with sweetened bread, fruit, berries, liqueurs…
Spinach and Cheese Strata
adapted from Gourmet circa 2003
serves 4 to 6?
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and Pepper
4 cups of cubed French bread (1 inch)
4 ounces coarsely grated Gruyére (a generous cup)
1 ounce freshly grated Parmesan (about 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 cups milk
5 large eggs
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
Cook the onion in butter over medium heat until soft. Add salt and pepper, then stir in the spinach. Cool.
Spread 1/3 of the bread crumbs over the bottom of a 9″ by 9″ baking dish. (Mine is an odd sized rectangle.) Sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheeses. Repeat the layering twice, ending with the cheese.
Whisk the milk, eggs, and mustard together. Pour over the strata. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 8 hours for the bread to absorb the liquid.
Remove the strata to from the fridge to take the chill off. Preheat oven to 350°F. Cover the casserole with foil if crispy cheese is not to your taste. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes. Let stand for a few minutes before serving. You can also serve the strata at room temperature. And guilty pleasure would be eating it like Thanksgiving stuffing right out of the fridge…
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