Until this week, I only remember hearing the word “strata” being used in reference to layers of rock. I hadn’t the foggiest notion that the word could also be used to name one of the most delicious casseroles I have ever eaten. Strata, in this case, refers to layers of bread, spinach, and cheese, covered in egg custard and baked to a puffy, cheesy, wonderfully savory breakfast. It’s somewhere between quiche and soufflé, but easier and quicker than either. You can even make it the night before for an effortless weekend brunch.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 6-8 slices good-quality white bread like French or Italian, cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 3-5 T. unsalted butter
- 10 oz. frozen chopped spinach
- 1/2 c. shallots, finely minced
- 1/2 c. dry white wine like Sauvignon Blanc
- 1 1/2 c. (6 oz.) Havarti, shredded (or any good-melting cheese like Gruyere, fontina, or colby)
- 6 large eggs
- 1 3/4 c. half & half
You need to start with dry bread so it can soak up all the egg-custardy goodness. You can do this by leaving the slices out overnight, or you can dry them in a 220 degree oven for about an hour. Once they are dry, spread them with a little butter and set aside.
Thaw the spinach and strain out all the water you can—cheesecloth works great. Set aside.
Next, heat 2 T. butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. When the butter is foamy, add the minced shallot and cook until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add the spinach and cook about 5 minutes more to heat the spinach through and to get rid of a little more water. Remove the veggies from the pan and set aside and let cool for a few minutes.
Add the wine to the pan and put over medium-high heat, allowing the alcohol to took off and the wine to reduce by half. It should take about 5-7 minutes.
Meanwhile, generously butter an 8×8 baking dish, then, make your egg custard. Whisk together the egg and half & half in a small bowl. Let the wine reduction cool for a couple minutes and then whisk into the custard.
Now, assemble your strata starting with a layer of bread, then spinach, then 1/3 of the cheese. Repeat for a second layer, reserving the last 1/3 of the cheese for just before baking. The strata needs time to soak up the custard, so cover it with plastic wrap and use 2 pounds of beans/rice/sugar to weigh it down (I used a gallon zipper bag filled with pinto beans that I use as pie weights). This really helps the custard soak into all the bread. Refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.
At baking time, preheat the oven to 325, remove the plastic, and sprinkle on the remaining cheese. Bake for 50-60 minutes until the edges are puffy, golden and bubbly. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.