Sunday, April 1, 2012

An Italian brunch treat: Strata

It’s a rather cold and drearily damp Sunday here in Toronto, the sort of day that makes me think of comfort food. That leads to poking around the kitchen to see what we have. Since we got up late (gigs last night), it was probably best to have something more in the line of brunch. Hmmm… What to do… We have some proscuitto I bought at the market yesterday, a nice bunch of basil (earmarked for pesto), a loaf of bread, milk, eggs. I realized we were halfway to having the ingredients for a brunch dish Vicki’s cousin first served to us on a Christmas morning in New York City a few years back.

Strata, meaning “layers” in Italian, is a lovely thing and easy to make. When you look at the ingredient list below, your first reaction might be, “Huh?”, followed by a quick flip to another recipe, but I urge you to carry on. Everything works together in a magical and delicious way, and while the ingredients may not be what you would expect, the result is truly excellent.

Another reason this is a great dish for serving at a brunch is that it’s made the night before, can be served hot, warm or room temperature, so if guest arrive in scattered waves, the main feature of the meal is still very eatable. All you do is throw it in the oven and bake for an hour, no last-minute fussing. That’s my idea of a useful feature of a recipe for entertaining.

Lastly, you can easily vary the ingredients. Throw in some oven-roasted tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, cooked spinach, bacon. A lot of different flavors will work excellently with the base of bread, eggs and cheese. In that case, you should probably call this recipe “strata-various”. Sorry… I just couldn’t resist.

Prosciutto and Goat Cheese Strata
Serves 6-8

18 slices firm white bread, crusts removed
6 oz prosciutto, thinly sliced
8 oz goat cheese, crumbled
4 oz provolone, grated (I suggest provolone picante from Italy, if you can find it)
¼ cup green onions, chopped
8 Tbs fresh basil, shredded
6 large eggs
2½ cups milk
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
½ tsp salt
3 Tbs butter, melted

1. Line bottom of a 13"x9"x2" glass or ceramic baking dish with 1 layer of bread (cut slices to fit). Arrange half of the prosciutto evenly over the bread. Sprinkle half of goat cheese and half of provolone over this. Finish the layer with half of the green onions and half of the basil.

2. Repeat the step above, creating a second layer. Cut the remaining bread into ¼" cubes and sprinkle over the top.

3. In a bowl, whisk eggs, milk, mustard, and salt. Season to taste with pepper. Pour this mixture over the strata; press down the bread with a spatula. Drizzle melted butter over all. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

4. Preheat oven to 350°. Uncover strata and let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Bake until the center is set, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven.

5. Now preheat the broiler and place the strata under it until the top is golden. Watch this carefully; it happens fast!

6. Cut into large squares and serve. This recipe also reheats quite well. Put it into a 350° oven for about 15-20 minutes. You only need it to be warm.

Buon appetito!


Vicki said...

The word 'strata' is the plural of the Latin word 'stratum' meaning layer, relating most commonly to geology in current usage. The word for layer in Italian is 'lo strato', plural form 'gli strati'. Perhaps the name for this dish may come from a shortened version of another word. 'Stata' does not exist in the Italian language as far as I know. That said, there is still more research to be done, so watch for further posts!

Rick Blechta said...

Caught out in an error! I guess I have to bow to my Italian “linguini“ (wife Vicki) who knows far more about the language than I ever will.

Sorry for the error!