A hot breakfast, layer by layer

14th December, 2009 - Posted by admin - Comments Off

Spinach, Prosciutto and cheese strata with roasted potatoes.

As the holiday approaches and our extended families pile into our homes, it’s time to start scouting out meals and dishes that can be made ahead of time. Preferably far enough ahead to allow us to sleep in for an hour or two.

That’s where the strata comes in. Layers of bread, cheese and anything else that looks good, soaked in eggs and milk, then baked. The recipe also double easily for feeding a crowd. Somewhere between French toast and a quiche, stratas have to sit for four to eight hours before baking to achieve the correct consistency. What you do during that time is entirely up to you.

Stratas are also a good way to use up day-old bread, if fresh is all that’s available, that’s fine too. For an interesting twist, use a combination of brown and white bread. Or a soft sandwich bread with a blend of dark rye cubes. Plan to use about 12 slices of bread or most of a loaf.

Because a strata is made up mostly of bread, eggs and milk they are an obvious choice for breakfast. Vary the ingredients a little and they make a filling dinner as well. Broccoli, chicken, bell peppers, shrimp and mushrooms are all wonderful ingredients.

The strata pictured was made with three different kinds of cheese: swiss, brie and parmesan totaling three cups. If you have the taste and budget for high end cheese or – like me – you already have them on hand, then by all means use them. Three cups of good quality cheddar will be just as tasty.

Taken from the Latin from word for “layers”, assembling the strata is a pretty straightforward process that can be accomplished by people with minimal culinary skills.

Into a buttered baking dish or spring form pan toss half the bread cubes. Layer about half the chosen ingredients over the bread. Add the rest of the bed and top with remaining ingredients. Pour egg mixture over the whole thing, cover and chill.

Don’t worry about arranging the ingredients in an artistic way, everything is going to turn into an eggy pudding before going into the oven.

After everything has sat for several hours, remove from the refrigerator and let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Putting a strata straight from the fridge into the oven means a longer cook time and a higher chance of a liquid center and an overdone edge.

The strata will puff up a bit and turn a lovely golden brown. Remove and let rest for five to ten minutes. Serve hot.

Spinach, proccutio and cheese strata

1 (10-oz) package frozen spinach, thawed
4 slices Prosciutto ham or cooked bacon in crumbles
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion (1 large)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 cups cubed (1 inch) bread (1/2 lb)
2 cups total coarsely grated Gruyère, swiss and/or brie cheese
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 3/4 cups milk
9 large eggs

Squeeze handfuls of spinach to remove as much liquid as possible, then finely chop.

Cook onion in butter in a large heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and nutmeg and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in spinach, then remove from heat.

Spread one third of bread cubes in a buttered 3-quart gratin dish or other shallow ceramic baking dish and top evenly with one third of spinach mixture. Sprinkle with one third of each cheese and ham. Repeat layering twice (ending with cheeses).

Whisk together milk, eggs and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl and pour evenly over strata. Chill strata, covered with plastic wrap, at least 8 hours (for bread to absorb custard).

Preheat oven to 350°F. Let strata stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

Bake strata, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 45 to 55 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

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Posted on: December 14, 2009

Filed under: Breakfast, Dinner

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