I'm ready to hit the Chicago farmers markets this week and stock up on all the super-fresh local produce I've been craving since last fall. I'll most likely bring home as much as I can carry, and then I'll be faced with the happy task of finding ways to prepare and eat it.
This is one recipe I know we'll be turning to, especially because it can be so easily adapted to use whatever ingredients look best.
I've been expanding my skill of cooking without recipes and trying to gain confidence in my own palate, which I put to the test last weekend while visiting family. With leftovers from a lovely dinner – asparagus, zucchini, dinner rolls, and Havarti cheese – and other ingredients I had on hand, I put together this simple-but-satisfying breakfast strata for our host and fellow guests.
Had I planned the dish ahead of time, I would have mixed the ingredients the night before and let them soak overnight. But I was struck with last-minute inspiration, and this quick version turned out just fine.
Strata is one of those fantastic meals that is way more than the sum of its parts. With the combination of a handful of basic ingredients (in this case, eggs, milk, bread, cheese, asparagus, and zucchini) and a very minimal amount of work, you're rewarded with a warm meal that's supremely satisfying and comforting. I can't ever help but feel like I've cheated somehow — but I haven't.
What I really love about strata is its versatility; there's so much room for flexibility and substitutions. I love using multigrain bread instead of stale rolls or white bread, simply because I always have it on hand. Use your favorite seasonal vegetables, toss in some fresh herbs, or blend together two kinds of cheese.
1/2 pound asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
4 slices white bread (or dinner rolls, or any other bread), torn into 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup shredded Havarti cheese
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cup milk, whole or 2%
Fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 10x7-inch baking pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. Mix in salt and pepper. Add bread, asparagus, and most of the cheese (reserve a couple tablespoons), and mix gently until bread pieces are all coated in egg mixture. Pour into pie pan.
→ Make-Ahead Strata: At this point, the strata can be covered and refrigerated overnight. Baking time will be slightly longer.
Bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and place zucchini slices on top. Brush with melted butter. Bake for another 20 minutes, or until eggs have set. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top, and place under the broiler for no more than a minute, just to brown the cheese a little.
Cool slightly before serving.
Updated from a post originally published May 2008.