Saturday, December 22, 2012

Make-Ahead Christmas Morning Breakfast

It's the season for layering. You've already heard me rave about boots and tights, but I haven't even started telling you about layering striped sweaters and down vests, burning multiple scented candles, or repeatedly stacking cheese, spinach, and bread on top of each other, then soaking it all with an egg custard.


Here's why you should make this delightful dish: Beyond being delicious--whether you go whole hog with the full amount of cheese, or dial down the indulgence--this baby makes the morning easier. What's the catch? It just takes a little work the night before, when I'm more awake and it's safer to use knives anyway. If you've visited us in Seattle, chances are good that I served you this. The night before, I spend half an hour in the kitchen, sauteeing onions and spinach, grating cheese, and cutting bread, and the next morning I pop this in the oven while the house wakes up. You come to the kitchen for coffee and laugh at my unnatural leopard pajama pants, but you back off when you catch the smell wafting from the oven, and because my mom gave me those pants.

Besides this strata being filling enough to fuel your most ambitious houseguest for a day of sightseeing, it just as easily fuels a lazy holiday morning--I'm envisioning lounging in an explosion of wrapping paper while Karen Carpenter sings the Christmas Waltz while we wait for breakfast to cool slightly. 

It starts just by layering sauteed spinach and onions with bread and cheese.


This part is a lot of fun: Mix up a custard with eggs, milk, and a little mustard. Pour it over the strata, soaking each chunky bread cube. 


Wrap your beautiful strata up in a Saran Wrap blanket, tell it goodnight, and tuck it in...(in the fridge).



One note about the size of this recipe: It's HUGE. I usually make only half the recipe (using five eggs) unless we have a house full of hungry people.

Spinach and Cheese Strata
Adapted from Gourmet | Serves 6 to 8

10 ounces spinach, roughly chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt (this will be halved and added in two separate steps)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper (likewise)
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 cups cubed French or Italian bread in 1-inch cubes (1/2 lb), preferably a day old, or dried in the oven 
6 ounces coarsely grated Gruyère (2 cups) or Fontina
2 ounces finely grated parmesan (1 cup)
2 3/4 cups milk
9 large eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

In a large, heavy skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and all of the nutmeg and continue cooking for one minute. Stir in spinach and cook until thoroughly wilted. (You may have to gradually add the spinach as what's in the pan cooks down to fit it all in.) Remove from the heat and set aside.

Spread one third of the bread cubes in a well-buttered 3-quart ceramic or glass baking dish. Top the bread with one-third of spinach mixture, and one-third of each cheese. Repeat layering twice with remaining bread, spinach and cheese. (You don't have to be very neat with the layering. It won't be evenly spread, but the laws of randomness benefit you here: Just sprinkle the ingredients about and every bite should get a proportionate amount of each of the ingredients.)

Whisk the eggs, milk, mustard, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper together in a large bowl (one that has a spout is especially handy here) and pour evenly over the strata. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing down gently, and chill strata for at least 8 hours or up to a day.

After chilling, let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes or so while the oven preheats to 350°F. Bake the strata, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 45 to 55 minutes. If you have an instant-read thermometer (shout-out to my Thermapen!), make sure the inside of the strata is 160°F. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Sit back in your leopard pants and get ready for the rest of your day.