Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Basics: Strata

It's become a Sunday morning tradition around here. After Will Shortz has his way with a listener on the puzzle segment of NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, Dave starts puttering around the kitchen making breakfast. Sometimes it's as simple as his fabulous cheese omelets,  other times he's got some sourdough left over from bread baking to use for biscuits or even waffles. I know that whatever it is, it's going to be delicious and I try to be appropriately appreciative.

My recipe box, broken cover and all.

But on Christmas Day a few weeks ago, falling as it did on a Sunday, I wanted to let him off the hook regarding breakfast. I pondered the usual suspects…a frittata, pancakes, coffee cake…and then remembered strata, which I hadn't made for years. I pulled out my trusty old recipe box and found the stained index card right there in the Eggs and Cheese section.

Dead easy, this cheater's souffle consists of bread, eggs, milk and cheese and whatever other ingredients you want to add. Usually, in our case, this means mushrooms and bacon, but can include herbs, kale, tomatoes, asparagus, ham or other meat or seafood.

Fortunately this cogitating was happening a day ahead, since strata really needs to be assembled the night before, with the bread spending all night absorbing the custardy goodness of the eggs and milk in order to achieve its utmost loveliness. So I dashed to the store, splurged on some chanterelle mushrooms that would go nicely with the last of the bacon from Roger and got a few pieces of fruit for a salad.

After popping it in the oven the next morning, it bubbled away while we dug into our stockings. (And yes, we still do stockings around here…how else can you surprise someone with that DVD they've been ogling online?) And I think Dave was pleased that Santa had thought to make breakfast for him for a change.

Bacon, Cheese and Chanterelle Strata

3-4 c. bread, cut in 1/2" cubes (remove crusts only if you want)
1/2 lb. sharp cheddar or other cheese, grated
1/2 lb. bacon, cut in 1/4" strips
1/4 c. butter or margarine, melted
1/2 lb. mushrooms, chopped
3 eggs
2 c. milk
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. salt

The day before baking, sauté bacon until fat begins to render. Add chopped mushrooms and sauté till mushrooms get limp. Remove from heat and cool. Beat eggs, milk, mustard and salt in a small mixing bowl. In a medium casserole dish (I used my small Le Creuset casserole), place half the bread cubes, topped with half the meat and mushroom mixture, half the cheese and half the melted butter. Repeat with another layer of the remaining bread cubes, meat mixture, cheese and butter. Pour the egg mixture over the top. You can add a little more milk if it seems too dry, but go easy—the bread shouldn't be swimming in liquid. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator overnight to soak.

The next morning, preheat the oven to 300°. Place the casserole in a larger pan with about 3/4" of hot water (I used my 9" by 12" Pyrex baking dish) and place those in the oven. Bake for 90 minutes.

Read more recipes in The Basics series: 20 Minute Tomato Sauce, House Vinaigrette, Chile Sauce and Caesar Salad.

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