Saturday, January 1, 2011

christmas brunch: mediterranean strata.

this strata first came into my life 3 years ago while camping out at my friend lizzy's parents' house in naperville, IL. it was a frigid january saturday morning made delightful by the late morning brunch we were lured out of our beds with by lizzy's mom. it was so delectable a meal that i swore i'd never eat another breakfast anywhere else for as long as i lived. ultimately, that solemn oath proved a wee bit tricky (it happens when you graduate from college and move across an ocean). however, years later, the chance to prepare this strata again at my own family's christmas brunch helped lessen the guilt of not being able to stay good on my promise.

i'll be frank: i'm a savory bruncher. it hasn't always been this way, but these days, i wouldn't even dream of turning down an omelette for waffles. unless they were pumpkin waffles (obviously). this strata is a savory (and vegetarian! and healthy freak!) kind of heaven. veggies? check. eggs? check. bread? double check.. for the double layer. the first time you make it, it takes a bit of concentration - and panic, if you're me and fearful of "ruining christmas" for your entire family - but the technique itself is quite simple and the results are amazing. my entire family (a family, i should mention, that could be understatedly described as carnivorous) was even lauding its praises. granted, i did ensure that each family member's plate was also graced with a hefty side of bacon. but nonetheless. it was a proud moment for their hippie vegetarian chef/daughter.

i made a few adjustments to the original recipe, and i could imagine that once you get it down the first time, you could experiment with throwing different herbs in (cilantro might be a nice addition), swap in another type of bread (sourdough or multigrain), or substitute a gouda or gruyere cheese for the feta and asiago. the original calls for some dijon mustard, which i cowardly omitted, but i'm confident about incorporating it next time.


2 french baguettes, cut into 1-inch-thick slices
cooking spray
1 cup chopped onions
4 garlic cloves
8 oz sliced mushrooms
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
14 oz baby spinach
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
5 tomatoes, thinly sliced
4 oz crumbled feta
3 oz grated asiago cheese
2 1/2 cups fat-free milk
2 tsp dried oregano
5 eggs, beaten
4 egg whites, beaten

preheat your oven to 350°.

place bread slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. bake at 350° for 12 minutes or until lightly browned.

heat a large skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. toss in your onion, garlic, and mushrooms; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. sprinkle flour over mushroom mixture; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly so it doesn't stick to the pan (which it will if you leave it for a second!). add half the spinach; cook 3 minutes or until spinach wilts. add remaining spinach; cook 3 minutes or until spinach wilts. stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

now it's time to assemble. place half of bread slices in bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. spread the spinach and mushroom mixture over bread. top with a layer of tomato slices; sprinkle evenly with feta and half of Asiago cheese. arrange remaining bread slices over cheese. Combine 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, milk, and remaining ingredients, stirring well with a whisk. pour over bread; sprinkle with remaining Asiago cheese. cover and chill 8 hours or overnight.

next morning! preheat oven to 350°. uncover strata; bake at 350° for about 50 minutes or until lightly browned and the eggs are set. i baked it for 35 minutes uncovered, then another 10 minutes covered in tin foil, and then removed the foil for the last 5 minutes to get the top nice and brown. serve warm.