A Strata for Breakfast at Easter Morning


strata_cNothing could be simpler or more satisfying than a strata - layers of egg, bread, cheese, and whatever else you fancy. It's a cruel fate for someone who is not a morning person to be a lover of morning food. Most important for sleep-lovers, a strata is entirely assembled in advance so it can rest overnight in the fridge.

By Malina Brown

There is nothing more blissful than starting the day with a steaming mug of coffee, a plate of eggs or a tower of pancakes, and a newspaper stretched out before me - so long as I can postpone actually preparing the foods for this tableau until noon.

Easter morning adds church and Easter baskets to the mix, along with friends and family to be fed, which means the host is forced to wake at an indecent hour clearheaded enough to wield sharp objects and keep pancakes off the ceiling. So, while guests can arrive fresh and well-rested, the chef has been up for hours mixing, frying, flipping, and washing dishes in pajamas.

Still, in these tight economic times there are plenty of advantages to hosting Easter brunch at home. Indeed, this is one of the cheaper holidays, since most menus revolve around staple ingredients like eggs, bread, butter, and potatoes. And drinks like mimosas and bellinis allow you to stretch inexpensive bubbly by mixing it with juice.

Besides, there's an easy solution for sleepyheads - a strata.

A strata - literally "layers" - is the product of a mixed marriage between an omelet and bread pudding. A savory breakfast casserole, the strata is easy to prepare, mostly involving soaking bread and cheese in an egg custard.

While never rising to the same fame as the frittata or quiche, the strata is similarly capable of incorporating a variety of vegetables, meats and cheeses.

It tastes good served warm or at room temperature as part of an Easter buffet - an especially lovely complement to the Easter ham (which can also be made a day ahead; see accompanying recipe). As a bonus, the leftovers reheat well in the microwave.

Most important for sleep-lovers, a strata is entirely assembled in advance so it can rest overnight in the fridge. Better yet, with a do-ahead dish, there's no pressure to perform as a short-order cook before a hungry audience that has yet to be pacified by sufficient caffeine.

There's nothing intimidating about making a strata, since there's no real technique involved - unless you count pouring the egg mixture over the bread cubes without spilling.

Rather, what distinguishes one cook's strata from another is the creativity in the selection of cheese and filling.

Swiss cheese paired with ham and tomatoes? Fontina, salami, and roasted garlic? Goat cheese, shiitake mushrooms, and chives? Think of a strata as a cook's equivalent of a blank canvas.

One of my favorite recipes is adapted from an old Gourmet magazine clipping that I found stuck in my files. The filling is a sauté of chopped spinach and onion with freshly grated nutmeg, to which I like to add thin slices of prosciutto for a salty, slightly chewy contrast. It's topped with an indulgent, heavy-handed sprinkling of grated Gruyere and Parmigiano-Reggiano - which renders guests positively gleeful.

When baked, the strata puffs up slightly and turns golden brown. The consistency is soft, but firm - not melty. It's pretty in a rustic kind of way and can be served by the spoonful straight from the baking dish.

I recently deviated from this tried-and-true recipe to make a Southwestern-inspired strata found in Gale Gand's Brunch! (Clarkson Potter, 2009) with shredded chicken, broccoli, corn, chiles, and Monterey Jack cheese. The night-before assembly took 20 minutes, including cleanup. The result was pure, oozing comfort food.

If you play it right, with a strata, you can get all your basic food groups in one dish - bread, dairy, meat, and vegetables - which takes the pressure off the rest of the meal. So, as a side dish, I like to serve something light and fresh-tasting to cut the denseness of the cheese and eggs, with a little crunch to provide a strong contrast in texture.

My mom's Orange and Fennel Salad is a worthy strata sidekick. The acidity from the oranges cleanses the palate, and crisp fennel slices add some crunch. Topped with raw onions, briny olives, fresh oregano, and chives, this salad is filled with a mixture of bold, assertive flavors that differ from the more muted taste of the strata.

Even a bleary-eyed cook can handle assembling this salad while the strata bakes in the oven. But in case of unbridled laziness, just toss together a quick green salad - with thin slices of radish and red onions for color. With brunch all set, you may even have time to catch a quick nap before your guests arrive.



+3 #1 Karen 2010-03-11 06:08 Thank you! Since I love the simplicity of strata I make it fairly often but needed a more special version for Easter morning. Your spinach-prosciutto-gruyere is just the ticket! My mouth watered just reading about it! Quote

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