If you’ve never had a strata before, it’s definitely one of those things you should try at least once in your life. It’s a savory bread pudding of sorts, typically served at Breakfast. I am BIG on casserole type dishes- any recipe that can serve as a one dish meal is all right by me! Stratas make for an even more convenient meal when you consider that they are assembled the night before, spend the night in the refrigerator, and are baked in the morning. And they don’t have to be served for breakfast, stratas can be lunch or dinner as well since they are so filling and savory. Served with a nice side salad- the perfect meal!
This particular strata recipe is out of this world! I’ve made a few stratas before but this one is by far my favorite. It is a little bit more complex than most since it uses some extra technique in preparation, but it is totally worth all the effort. All the additional steps are important in achieving the perfect texture- moist without being soggy, and still retaining its shape. Believe it or not, that can actually be difficult to achieve with a strata. Sometimes there is more custard than bread or the bread is simply too fresh, so it ends up super soggy. Other times there is just not enough custard and it ends up dry. This Cooks Illustrated recipe has you dry out the bread in the oven so that it is more willing to soak up the custard and retain its shape. They also instruct you to weigh down the strata over night, covering it with plastic wrap and placing a pantry item or two on top to compress the dish. This technique also encourages the perfect soak of the bread in the custard, making for an evenly textured strata. But be careful when doing this! Place a sheet pan under the baking dish before weighing it down, then refrigerate as such, otherwise the custard might overflow all over your refrigerator… not a fun mess to pick up.
I really can’t say enough about this recipe. If you like eggs, cheese, bread, and veggies- you’ll LOVE this. And if you are feeling kind of slighted because there is no meat. Go ahead and add in some cooked, crumbled sausage to the dish with the spinach mixture. That would really go perfectly. Plus it would make it a bit heartier for those men that don’t like to go without their meat.
- 8-10 slices of supermarket French Bread (1/2 inch thick) or Italian bread
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 4 medium shallots, minced (about ½ cup)
- 1 pkg frozen chopped spinach (10 oz) thawed and squeezed dry
- table salt
- ground black pepper
- ½ cup medium dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
- 6 oz Gruyere cheese, grated (about 1½ cups)
- 6 large eggs
- 1¾ cups half-and-half
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 225 degrees. Arrange bread in single layer on large baking sheet and bake until dry and crisp, about 40 minutes, turning slices over halfway through drying time. (alternatively, leave slices out overnight to dry) When cooled, butter slices on one side with 2 tablespoon butter; set aside.
- Heat 2 tablespoons butter in medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Saute shallots until fragrant and translucent; about 3 minutes; add spinach and salt and pepper to taste and cook stirring occasionally, until spinach and shallots are combined, about 2 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl, set aside. Add wine to skillet, increase heat to medium high and simmer until reduced to ¼ cup, 2-3 minutes; set aside.
- Butter 8 inch square baking dish with remaining 1 tablespoon butter; arrange half the buttered bread slices, buttered side up, in single layer in dish. Sprinkle half of spinach mixture, then ½ cup grated cheese evenly over bread slices. Arrange remaining bread slices in single layer over cheese; sprinkle remaining spinach mixture and another ½ cup cheese evenly over bread. Whisk eggs in medium bowl until combined; whisk in reduced wine, half and half, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Pour egg mixture evenly over bread layers; cover surface flush with plastic wrap, weigh down (I used 2 One lb boxes of brown or powdered sugar, laid side by side over plastic covered surface) and refrigerate overnight.
- Remove dish from refrigerator and let stand at room temperature 20 minutes. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Uncover strata and sprinkle remaining ½ cup cheese evenly over surface. Bake until both edges and center are puffed and edges have pulled away slightly from sides of dish. (50-55 minutes -- or 60 minutes if you've doubled the recipe). Cool on wire rack 5 minutes, serve.
Adapted from “The New Best Recipe” By Cooks Illustrated