I decided to try out this new recipe that I’d read about on Smitten Kitchen a few weeks ago, partly because it can be assembled up to a day in advance and partly because it looked damn good!
A strata is basically a savory layered bread pudding — this one is held together by eggs and enriched with spinach, sautéed onions and two kinds of cheese. It comes out of the oven bubbling hot and meltingly delicious. As you’re eating it, you will encounter little pockets of various types of yumminess — a slice or two of soft, sweet onion, an extra gooey patch of Gruyère, a refreshing clump of sautéed spinach leaves…
If any of the strata manages to survive the brunch feeding frenzy, it also reheats well. I used fresh spinach since it’s still easy to get in these parts but you can also use frozen without any ill effects, just make sure you wring out all the water. I used the eggs we’d just received from our CSA, Eatwell Farm and encourage you to seek out pasture-raised eggs near you (see my post on choosing the best eggs for more info.)
The recipe below is adapted from the February 2003 issue of Gourmet via Epicurious (ach, Gourmet, why did you have to leave us???) By the way, I encourage those of you who are mourning the loss of Gourmet like I am to check out Gourmet Unbound, a collaborative blog devoted entirely to cooking and sharing recipes from past issues as a way of keeping the goodness alive.
Spinach & Cheese Strata
* 1 (10-oz) package frozen spinach, thawed
* 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) French or Italian bread (1/2 lb)
* 6 oz coarsely grated Gruyère (2 cups)
* 2 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup)
* 2 3/4 cups milk
* 9 large eggs
* 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
* 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1. If using fresh spinach, wash it thoroughly and dry well. If using frozen, squeeze handfuls of spinach to remove as much liquid as possible, then finely chop.
2. Sautée 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 (if using fresh spinach, continue cooking until the leaves have all wilted.)
3. Spread one third of the bread cubes in a buttered 3-quart gratin dish or other shallow ceramic baking dish and top evenly with one third of the spinach mixture. Sprinkle with one third of each cheese. Repeat layering twice (ending with cheeses).
4. Whisk together milk, eggs, mustard, Worcestershire sauce 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, for at least 8 hours and up to a full day (to allow time for the bread to absorb the custard).
5. Preheat oven to 350°F. Let the strata stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Bake the strata, uncovered, in the middle of the oven until puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 50 to 55 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
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