Years ago, my mother-in-law shared a recipe with me that I consider one of my “go to” dishes. Given that she is an Italian Nonni with a rich cultural heritage and is one of the best cooks I know, I was certain that she had passed down a long-held family secret. A few years later, I was flipping through “Joy of Cooking” and there it was – the Basic Breakfast Strata! Originally published in 1931, “Joy of Cooking” is a wonderful resource for all of the basics. How long are you supposed to boil and egg or potatoes? How hot should the oven be and for how long when making a roast? I love this book, but I still think my mother-in-law is a genius because she has always taken the basics and added her own twist. This was a lesson well learned by my sister-in-law, Chef Andrea Maue, my inspiration in all things culinary. The recipe calls for stale bread buttered on both sides as its main ingredient. A couple of years ago, Andrea had the brilliant idea of substituting stale croissants and the results are awesome.
The beauty of the strata is that you can add pretty much any ingredients that you would like to the core of bread, eggs and milk: a perfect match for the Inland Empire CSA box that we happily retrieve from the Sage Mountain Farm booth at the Old Town Temecula Farmers Market. The Strata is a winner at every brunch I have ever hosted or attended, so play around with your favorite flavors and add this to your list of “go to” dishes. Note: the dish is to be prepared the day before and cooked the next morning, giving the flavors time to meld and you the luxury of relaxing with a Mimosa or coffee while it bakes.
Not-So-Basic Breakfast Strata
Butter a 9” x 13” casserole dish.
Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add:
2 pounds bulk breakfast sausage and brown for 5 minutes, breaking it up as it cooks. Add:
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup scallions, white and light green parts only (CSA Box) or 1/2 cup finely chopped onions
2 cloves of garlic, minced (CSA Box)
Cook for 5 minutes more until mushrooms begin to brown and then add:
3 cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped (CSA Box)
Set sausage mixture aside in a fine sieve to cool and drain. Mushrooms and spinach release a great deal of liquid as the cook, so if you do not drain the mixture a bit, the strata will be too watery.
In a large bowl, combine:
8 large eggs
4 cups milk
A few turns of fresh ground pepper and a pinch kosher salt as well as any garden fresh herbs that you would normally toss in an omelet.
Loosely fill the casserole with cubed stale croissants or buttered Italian bread. This usually takes the equivalent of a couple of loaves of bread. Incorporate the sausage mixture and 2 cups of grated cheese. We like a mild mix of cheeses or, if we are feeling really adventuresome, the Gouda from Winchester Cheese Company. Pour egg mixture over the top and sprinkle with 1/2 – 1 cup of grated cheese.
Let strata stand for at least 1 hour or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Set a baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven to catch any drips and bake the strata for 45 minutes covered in foil, then 15 minutes more or until the cheese is brown and bubbly.
Once again, the family and the Inland Empire CSA come through – a delicious combination of food and love. For more information on how you can incorporate locally-grown, seasonal, organic produce into your life, please visit www.inlandempirecsa.com.