The Strata: Savory Bread Puddings

Friday March 25, 2016

savory bread pudding in a standard 9x9 pyrex pan...photo courtesy of fine cooking... it is a visual templet for vegetable stratas. no special equipment needed.

The strata is a culinary term coined in the 1950s for an old-fashioned baked egg casserole composed of layered of ingredients, the same technique used for constructing a lasagne or quiche, only bread is used as the main starch and eggs are the binder.  If you have never made a savory bread pudding strata, it can sound unusual, but the results are spectacular.

Stratas are a real convenience food, as they are assembled up to 12 hours ahead and refrigerated until baking just before serving for brunch with fresh fruit, hearty lunch or Sunday supper with a green salad.  If I have time, I like a few tablespoons of chunky homemade salsa on the side.

I like the firm texture and low-fat quality of French baguette or Italian country bread, but any white, whole wheat sandwich, or egg bread, even English muffins or day old croissants, can be used; cut 1/2-inch thick slices to fit your casserole dish. Nothing has to be a perfect fit, so you can get a beautiful baked casserole even if the bread is laid patchwork style. Ingredients may vary from bacon and spinach with jack cheese; asparagus, mushroom, and Brie; to roasted red peppers, chorizo sausage, and chèvre.  Consider one vegetable, like mild chiles or zucchini. Whatever meat you use, be sure it is already cooked and cooled; never use raw meat as it won’t cook evenly.  The pudding is held together with a mixture of milk and eggs.  I find commercial liquid egg substitutes work well here.  Take care not to over bake, or the custard will be rubbery.

The following two recipes have been my favorite for years. Both take the egg and bread casserole medium and uses it in a totally different way. You will make these recipes over and over. They will be part of your nourishing culinary arsenal. They are that good.

having your own flock of "girls" in the yard for fresh eggs is now in vogue

Vegetable Frittata

Makes one 10-inch frittata, 8 servings

This is an unusual baked egg casserole, as it is baked in a deep springform pan and served in wedges like a cake or torte. Wow. It is so great. While it takes a  bit of time to assemble, it can conveniently be baked a day ahead and reheated.  Serve hot, room temperature, or cold for brunch or supper.  Great brunch party food or an accompaniment to the grill!

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 medium zucchini, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 3 summer squash, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch thick strips
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch thick strips
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup cream or evaporated milk
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups day-old country bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 8-ounces cream cheese, cut into chunks
  • 2 cups (8-ounces) shredded Jarlsberg or Swiss cheese

vegetable frittata

Instructions

1.  Preheat the oven to 350º.  Grease the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan.  If it might leak, cover the bottom and up the sides with a sheet of aluminum foil or plan to place it on a baking sheet to catch the leaks.

2.  In a large skillet, place the olive oil.  Sauté the onion, mushrooms, squash, and peppers until crisp-tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.  While the vegetables are cooking, whisk together the eggs, cream or milk, and seasoning in a large bowl.  Add the bread cubes and cheeses.

3.  Add the sautéed vegetables to the bread mixture and stir with a large rubber spatula to evenly combine.   Scrape into the prepared pan and pack the mixture tightly.  Place on the baking sheet.

4.  Bake about 1 hour, until firm to the touch, puffed, and golden brown.  Serve or cool to room temperature and refrigerate.  Reheat in a 350º oven until warmed through, about 15 minutes.

Wine, Bread, and Cheese Souffle

Makes 4 servings

This rustic casserole is a cross between a traditional souffle and a quiche. It is one of my oldest recipes, learning it way back in the 1970s. I made it so often that I had a little round French clay casserole dish that was just the right size to make it in. It has a crust of garlic-scented bread slices and a filling made with a dry white wine like a Sauvignon Blanc.  Whatever type wine you use will affect the character of the dish.  This is a wonderful fast meal.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 8 slices (no more than 3/4-inch thick) day-old country bread or baguette, sliced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Splash white Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 pound (2 cups) shredded Swiss cheese, such as Jarlsberg or Emmenthaler

Instructions

1.  Preheat the oven to 325º.  In a small bowl, cream together the butter and garlic.  Spread the bread slices with the garlic butter on one side.  Arrange, butter side down, to line the sides and bottom of a 1 1/2 quart casserole or  7 1/2-inch souffle dish.  It does not matter if there are some uneven spaces between the slices, but place as close together as possible.

2.  In a medium bowl, combine the wine, milk, eggs, salt, pepper, paprika, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce with a whisk; beat until smooth, 1 minute.  Add the cheese and stir to combine.  Pour into the lined casserole.

3.  Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden browned and the filling is puffed and set.  Serve immediately.  Can be made up to 8 hours ahead, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated.

Excerpted from The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger. (c) 2000, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2016

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.


Your Comments

3 comments Comments Feed
  1. Grace 20/08/2012 at 1:45 am

    Have you ever made a strata with a soda bread? Like Irish soda bread or a quick bread like a pumpkin bread? I have a Hatch green chili bread I made today and it’s a little bland and I was wondering if it might be possible to turn it into a southwest style strata. If you’ve tried it I would love to know if it works! :)

  2. Beth 13/11/2012 at 5:05 am

    Yes you can make stratas with soda bread and quick breads. it will be a bit dense due to the crumb, just like if you were using a whole grain, english muffins, or thick artisan bread. of course with the soaking mixture of milk and eggs, the bread will break down and be soggy (after all a strata is a savory bread pudding). dont try to use too much bread, and dont slice too thick, so that the soaking mixture isnt the right proportion and you would get a dry baked strata. keep me posted. BH

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