We don't do dinner parties much anymore. As the parents of a 2 year-old, events that take place after 8pm just don't make it on to the agenda very often. We do like to have groups of friends and neighbors over on occasion however, and since the 10-12 window seems to be the best one for most families with young children, brunch has become our event-du-jour.
Brunch is easy, right? Coffee, juice, fruit, bagels (mediocre ones if you live in the DC burbs like me). It does, however, present me with one small problem. For me, being the person I am, fruit and mediocre bagels do not a decent brunch party make. I want something hot, homemade and substantial on the table. On the other hand, people show up at 10 o'clock in the morning and I really don't want to be slaving in the kitchen early on a Sunday morning.
My solution? Strata! This make-ahead breakfast casserole has a base of bread, eggs and milk which can be customized any way you like. You assemble it in a casserole dish the day before, refrigerate overnight and the morning of the brunch all you have to do is stick it in the oven. Genius!
The strata recipe below is for the version I made recently, but see the notes that follow for some more ideas on what to put in it. Also, you don't have to let it sit overnight. 20 minutes to absorb the egg mixture is long enough if you want to whip up a last minute treat. And remember: as always, my recipes are really hard to screw up, so give it a shot!
A final note: Maybe it was coincidence, but at my last brunch pot luck my strata was joined on the table by delicious homemade scalloped potatoes, homemade pumpkin muffins, hot pancakes from scratch and another tasty egg casserole. No mediocre bagels! Maybe like inspires like...
What you need:
1 loaf italian bread (9x5 inches), cut into 1/2 inch slices
21/2 c. milk
1/2 c. heavy cream
Herbs to taste (dried oregano or thyme, fresh basil or parsley)
1/2 cups parmesan or romano, grated
1 lb (16 oz) spicy vegetarian sausage, sliced
2 large shallots or 1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
1 red or green pepper, thinly sliced
2-3 c. cheddar (or similar) cheese, grated
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
What to do:
Butter a standard (9x13) casserole dish. Combine eggs, milk, cream, herbs and parmesan or romano thoroughly (If you're using whole milk you don't need the cream--just replace it with more milk).
Heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a medium skillet. Sauté the sausage over medium-high heat until browned. Remove from pan. Add a little bit more oil and the shallots or scallions and the pepper. Sauté until slightly softened. Combine with sausage.
Assemble the strata. Place a layer of bread slices on the bottom of the dish. Tear little bits off extra slices to fill in gaps. Cover with half the sausage/pepper mixture. Pour half the egg mixture over and than sprinkle on half the cheese. Repeat. Top with cherry tomatoes.
Cover and refrigerate until needed, at least 20 minutes. Uncover and bake at 350 degrees 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Enjoy and Impress!
Mediterranean strata: Use a combination of artichoke hearts, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese and other Mediterranean ingredients.
Swiss strata: How about onions, mushrooms, spinach and Swiss cheese?
Simple strata: Steamed broccoli and tomatoes.
Ideas for me? Post a comment. Thanks!
photos by Emily Rodman