Today I decided to whip up a Strata, which means "layer" in Italian. I think I originally got this idea from the Everyday Italian back when I had cable, but I have been making the recipe from memory for so long I could have it confused!? Anyways, it is traditional of Northern Italy, and features that beautiful spice nutmeg, which I love for its savory side (See The Spicy Necessities section of this blog for more on nutmeg). It is a dish that uses up stale and hard bread. These recipes aren't often found on this side of the Atlantic because most people eat bread that lasts for a couple of weeks in a plastic bag. Let me tell you what you're missing out on: the smell of quality flour, salt, yeast, and water mixed together until it bakes into a crackling crust and a soft, light and airy center that gives with just a little chew. These loaves can include whole grains, dried fruits, and seeds. I have to intentionally try and save the bread to make something like a Strata because it is usually gobbled up in inhuman amounts.
Stateside, you can find high-quality bread, but you will have to pay for it. Artisan breads are worth every penny, and you will be able to taste the joy of their craft in every bite. Sometimes, when I walk down the bread aisle at the local SUPERmarket (which I am trying to make few and far between), I feel like we are losing these true culinary arts, and we aren't buying food that actually means something to the people who made it. I wish I had the talent to make great bread everyday, and attempting it myself has made me respect those craftsmen even more. The long and short of it is that you should support your local baker, and then make this recipe out of the loads of bread you buy from them!
Notes: If you do not have stale or hard bread on hand, but you are dying to try this recipe, you can simply cut some bread into cubes and dry them out in a low-heat oven for about 30 minutes, or until hard. It works just as well, and if you like a slight toast on the bread, perfect. Whatever type of bread you like should work, but I prefer a lighter bread or whole wheat as opposed to a rye or pumpernickel because of it's absorption qualities. Also, with the strata, you don't have to stick with the exact recipe for the layers. If you want to put in peppers, eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, or turkey instead of bacon be my guest--the more experimentation you do in the kitchen, the better your life will taste. Just cook what you like!
3 C Stale or hard bread
4-5 Whole bacon strips, fried until crispy
1 Onion, chopped
3 Cloves Garlic
3/4 C cheese (I used shredded Asiago, Parmesan, and Romano)
5 Eggs, beaten
Splash of milk
This recipe needs a pre-heated oven at 350 and a butter-greased bread pan.
Chop the onions and garlic and sauté in a pan over medium heat with olive oil and butter. Cook until you start smelling a sweet onion aroma and the color is just about to start browning. Crumble up your crispy bacon and stir in with your onion mixture. I decided to save the bacon grease for another use because the butter really adds enough with the onion and I didn't want to weaken that gorgeous flavor combination. Reserve the bacon-onion-garlic mixture in another bowl.
In yet another bowl, beat up the eggs with a splash of milk to give it a little creamier of a color. You can also use heavy cream if you really want to go for the gold--whole milk works just fine for me. Also beat in the salt, black pepper and nutmeg at this point. Spice as you like, but don't go too heavy on the nutmeg because it can overpower.
Now it is time for assembly in your prepared bread pan. The first layer is the bread, second is the bacon-onion-garlic mixture, third is egg, and fourth is cheese. I had enough to make two layers, but you can easily increase the layers by increasing the proportions of ingredients that you use, no problem!
Most of the egg mixture should be saved until the end, when you douse that bread pan in full, golden egg glory. Let the Strata stand for about 15 minutes before you put it into the oven, so that the bread cubes can soak and become chewable again. When they come out of the oven they will be fluffy and happy and covered in cheese--what could be better, right?
The Strata should be ready in about 30-40 minutes. It will be bubbly and happy. At this point, it is advantageous to use a glass bread pan, because when it comes out you can see the layers! Yay!
Please enjoy with some friends, this can serve up to 6-7 from one bread pan. I would serve it with a light salad with a balsamic vinaigrette and a glass of wine. The nutmeg from the Strata will work wonders with a balsamic vinaigrette in the accompanying dish--and we're all about flavor fusion. It can also be breakfast for the next day-- this is another dish that can wait on the stove, covered--but if you have Home Ec-style bacteria fear, throw it in the fridge for later.