I’ve never been much of a breakfast person, but boy do I love brunch. Growing up, breakfast was always this big question mark of what I was going to throw down my gullet before running to catch the bus to school. I seriously detested milk which meant that cereal was out of the question (so soggy, so gross) and Eggo waffles could only sustain me for so long. My two most common breakfast foods were most people’s lunch or dinner; I alternated between ramen noodles and half of a frozen individual Celeste pizza. Kind of horrifying, no?
Brunch, on the other hand, was a Sunday morning affair when my mom would make her famous Belgian waffles served with lots of fresh fruit (and occasionally mini chocolate chips!). And sometimes we would have French toast, or popovers, or sometimes pancakes. It didn’t matter what it was, while breakfast felt like a chore all week long, brunch on the weekend was an absolute delight. Which has led me to realize that I only enjoy breakfasts that take some time to make (and have a ton of calories). Forget about a cup of yogurt or instant oatmeal, I want homemade baked or griddled goods! The problem with this is that sometimes you just don’t have time in the morning. Or, but more bluntly, you don’t want to have to wake up early enough to have to throw some food together and get yourself to look presentable enough for the company that you’ve invited over for brunch.
Which leads us to this masterpiece of a brunch, because honey, you make it the night before. Just throw it together, toss it in the fridge, go to bed, stumble out of bed, take it out of the fridge, take a quick shower, put it in the oven, wash the wine glasses you didn’t get to the night before, make some coffee, and stir together the mimosas, and presto, you’re ready. The strata will be coming out of the oven just as the doorbell rings. And in Ina Garten’s words, how easy is that?
I had already seen this recipe on Smitten Kitchen and was excited to try it, but when my sister-in-law told me about what a hit it was at their New Year’s brunch they threw a couple years ago, I knew I had to make it. I finally got my chance last Christmas when it just seemed like the obvious choice. You want to spend Christmas morning opening presents and eating good food, not slaving away in the kitchen! So we made it and I absolutely loved it. I mean, I was already stuffed to the nines and still taking a third helping. So when my parents were in town and with my aunt and uncle just 45 minutes away now that they’ve moved, it just seemed like a no-brainer to have them over for brunch. Mostly I just wanted to make the strata again!*
We had plans to go the Museum of Fine Arts to check out the Chihuly exhibit and I just didn’t want to have to get up super early just to spend the whole morning in the kitchen. We had a weekend we had to go out and enjoy! The strata was perfect, I still loved it, and best of all, we got to spend time with family instead of the griddle and then had plenty of time to head to the museum. Are you in the Boston area and haven’t seen the Chihuly exhibit yet? Get to the kitchen, prep the strata, and head to the MFA this weekend, ’cause it’s only there till the 8th! Enjoy!
*Actually not true. I was very excited to see them and have them over.
Spinach and Cheese Strata
This strata is totally adaptable. I want to try adding bacon and tomatoes next time….
- 1 (10 ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed, squeeze of all excess liquid, and chopped
- 1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion (1 large)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 8 cups cubed French or Italian bread in 1-inch cubes (1/2 lb)
- 6 ounces coarsely grated Gruyère (2 cups)
- 2 ounces finely grated parmesan (1 cup)
- 2 3/4 cups milk
- 9 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- Sauté onion in butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and nutmeg and continue cooking for one minute. Stir in spinach, remove from heat and set aside.
- Spread one third of the bread cubes in a well-buttered 3-quart gratin dish or other ceramic baking dish. Top with one-third of spinach mixture and one-third of each cheese. Repeat layering twice with remaining bread, spinach and cheese.
- Whisk eggs, milk, mustard and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper together in a large bowl and pour evenly over strata. Cover with plastic wrap and chill strata for at least 8 hours or up to a day.
- The next day, let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes while preheating the oven to 350°F. Bake strata, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 45 to 55 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Number of servings (yield): 6-8