Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Any Way Strata

In terms of a recipe standby that is not only always comforting and delicious but that I can also always make, no matter what is in the refrigerator, nothing quite beats strata. Imagine a frittata enlivened by hearty, savory bread and you get the idea. We first started making this strata years ago, and it’s always a hit for brunch. But, in my opinion, it’s even better for dinner. You can make it early in the day and let it sit for a few hours in the fridge before baking it just before dinner.

Aside from the ease of preparation involved, I also love how flexible the recipe is. Seriously, you can make this with just about anything. Have some bell peppers on hand? Saute them up. Spinach that’s not quite crisp enough to eat raw in a salad? Perfect for this! And the list goes on: broccoli, onions, asparagus, fennel, mushrooms, Swiss chard, zucchini, squash—they’d all work perfectly in this. And when coupled with gooey cheese and the more substantial bread, which soaks up the egg and almost takes on the texture of beautifully tender potatoes (hey, potatoes would be great in this, too!), you have a fabulous meal that needs only a green salad for accompaniment.

That said, there’s not exactly a precise recipe for this strata. The keys are cooking the vegetables until they’re tender and have given up all their moisture (no one likes a soggy strata, after all) and allowing enough time for the bread to soak up the eggs and milk. Play around with different vegetable, bread, and cheese combinations. (My most recent rendition included colorful bell peppers, fresh broccoli, and baby spinach; rosemary baguette; and nutty Parmesan cheese.) The possibilities are truly endless and the results are no less than delectable.

Strata—Your Way

Yield: About 8 or 9 servings (but less if I’m eating)

1 vegetable combination (choose from those I’ve listed below or create one of your own)
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder or ½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon dried Italian herb seasoning
9 eggs
2½ cups milk
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
8 cups of hearty bread (not sandwich bread), cut into ¾- to 1-inch pieces*
1¼ cups cheese, divided**

Heat 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. If using bell peppers, onions, or fennel, add them first to the pan, stirring occasionally, until they become soft and translucent (in the case of onions or fennel), about 5 minutes. Season with ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Add the remaining vegetables and cook, continuing to stir occasionally. If using spinach or another leafy green vegetable, add them last and cook until just wilted, about 1 minute. Continue cooking the vegetables until they are tender and all the moisture has evaporated.

(Note: If you elect to use potatoes, either sweet or regular, you need to make sure that they are completely cooked before they are put in the oven with the rest of the strata. You can accomplish this by either roasting the potatoes in the oven until they’re tender or boiling them in water until they’re tender. Add the potatoes to the rest of the vegetables before adding garlic powder and herbs.)

Once vegetables are completely cooked through, add garlic powder (or nutmeg) and herbs and mix thoroughly. Remove pan from heat and allow vegetables to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl whisk together eggs, milk, and Dijon mustard. Season with ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine bread and 1 cup of cheese. Add vegetable mixture to bread and toss to combine.

Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and add bread-vegetable mixture. Carefully pour egg mixture evenly over bread. Sprinkle remaining ¼ cup of cheese over baking dish. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Before baking, adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake strata until the eggs are completely set and the top is browned, 45 to 55 minutes. If the strata begins to brown too much, place a sheet of aluminum foil over the baking pan to prevent further browning. Remove strata from oven and cool for 10 minutes. Serve immediately. Stored in the refrigerator covered in aluminum foil or plastic wrap, the strata will keep for up to 1 week.

*My particular favorite bread in strata is a hearty whole wheat loaf. Baguettes or other crusty breads also work well (and are even better if they’ve started to become stale).
**You can use practically any type of cheese, as well as combinations of cheeses. Cheddar, Swiss, Gruyere, Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, Monterrey Jack, and low-moisture Mozzarella are all wonderful choices. Be creative with your pairings of bread, cheese, and vegetables. For example, a Tex-Mex version could include onion, bell pepper, and mushrooms; a milder baguette; and pepper jack cheese, with some hot sauce added to the egg mixture.

Vegetable Combinations:
Choose 3 or 4 vegetables from the list below. In the end you’ll want about 4 cups of cooked vegetables.

½ diced onion, 1 diced zucchini or yellow squash, 1 diced bell pepper, 8 ounces sliced mushrooms, 8 ounces broccoli (cut into ½-inch pieces), 1 diced fennel bulb, 8 ounces asparagus (cut into ½-inch pieces), 1 medium sweet or regular potato (cut into ½-inch pieces), 8 ounces spinach or other leafy green (such as Swiss chard).

You can also use 12-ounce bags of frozen vegetables if you have some on hand. Frozen spinach is especially convenient. Take the bag out of the freezer when you begin to saute the vegetables and add them to the pan according to the recipe, making sure to let the moisture evaporate in the pan before combining the vegetables with the bread.


  1. this one has been around for years - we first made it to celebrate Katie's high school graduation. and I love the idea of using sweet potatoes. yummmmmm....

  2. what a delightful blog. look forward to reading more of your meals. i'll be eating at italiasia in chicago (got a 50% off coupon from living social-you should check out that site). happy cooking.

  3. delicious! the recipes.the photos. congratulations on the blog. will look forward to more entries and trying some of the recipes, especially the strata and the oatmeal cookies.