Thursday, August 31, 2006

make-ahead spinach-and-gruyere strata

This picture doesn't do this dish justice, but it was kind of a spur-of-the-moment "I ought to blog this" picture, if you know what I mean. I cooked for a largish group last weekend, and for breakfast one morning we had this strata, with fruit salad and frizzled ham and yogurt.

When I do these groups, I always share my recipe website URL, so that anyone who is interested in a recipe can go find it there. Often, I don't know if anyone ever does follow up, unless they tell me. In this case, though, a couple of people said this was their favorite dish of the weekend and they were going to go find the recipe and try it at home. So I knew it was a hit, hence, its appearance here!

The word strata means "layers," so technically you could call something like lasagne a strata. In cooking terms, though, it has come to mean some sort of layered bread dish, often with an egg-and-milk component to moisten the bread. In this case, the bread layers are filled with spinach, shallots, and Gruyere cheese (I often substitute Jarlsberg or swiss when my budget is tight.) The egg component has cream, reduced wine, and the ever-popular S&P to taste.

The whole thing is assembled the night before, covered and stuck in the fridge overnight ... a blessing for us morning-challenged types! You refrigerate it with another pan on top of it, weighted with whatever is handy so the bread layers are compressed, which much improves their texture. The next morning, take it out of the fridge and pop it in the oven for 45 minutes or so and voila! A most impressive morning feast.

Some tips, if you do decide to make it:
  • Unless you know your crowd adores spinach, cut the recipe amount in half.
  • Be careful when you pour in the egg to not completely fill the dish. When you put the weights on top of it, you don't want egg seeping out of the pan onto your refrigerator shelves. I know whereof I speak.
  • The recipe calls for two layers, but you can use a smaller pan with taller sides and make it a beautiful three layers, as shown.
  • If you want to go from an 8x8 pan to a 13x9, the recipe should be one-and-a-halved.
  • The wine is critical! Otherwise it's just a fancy french toast.
  • The recipe says to use 2 tablespoons of butter to butter all those slices of bread. I don't know what magic those folks are able to work with that little butter, but try as I might, I always end up using a little more.
  • If you let it cool for 5 minutes before slicing, not only will it be easier to slice, but the puffy sides will have settled down to the height of the center and it will look better.
If you decide to make it, drop me a line and let me know what you think!

Hey, wait a minute! Without even trying, I just published an entry worthy of Sweetnicks' ARF 5-a-day! Woo hoo!

No comments: