Call it egg casserole or savory bread pudding, but there's no denying that strata is a tasty make-ahead dish that can feed a crowd with a minimum of time and hard labor in the kitchen. So if you're stuck hosting the family this year for Easter on April 24, this easy casserole with variations might be just the thing. And, it's thrifty too, as a dozen eggs is still less than $5 — even if they are organic and cage-free.
It's basically cubed bread soaked in a custard and filled with whatever goodies and cheese suit your tastes. You can go with a veggie option full of coloful produce or please meat-eaters with sausage or ham. You can also experiment with different cheese varieties (cheddar, jack, swiss, fontina, gruyere and blue are all be lovely) and bread choices. Wheat bread can add a nice flavor to a zucchini and swiss casserole while a rustic French loaf goes well with Italian sausage. I tend to save odd pieces and ends of bread in my freezer so they don't go to waste. They work perfectly in this recipe—I simply thaw them before adding them to the baking pan.
I adapted this recipe of my mother's to feed 8-10. Think of it as a general guide that you can adjust based on the size of your eggs and the freshness of your bread (stale bread will absorb more liquid). Experiment with it and enjoy! You can tailor it to the palates of your friends and family as you assemble it the night before. Let the bread soak in the custard overnight in the fridge and then on Easter morning, all you have to do is bake it in the oven and dig in.
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4-5 cups of cubed bread (enough to cover bottom of a 9 x 13-inch dish)
3 1/2-4 cups of milk, cream or a combination of the two
2 cups cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons dried mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Chopped parsley for garnish
Add one tablespoon butter and one tablespoon olive oil to a sautee pan. When foamy, add onions and cook for 10-20 minutes, until they are carmelized and have cooked down some.
Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with butter lightly. Place the cubed bread on the bottom of the pan in a layer. Cover with the cheese.
Whisk the eggs, milk (or cream), mustard and salt and pepper together. Mix in the onions and any other filling items you choose (see variations below).
Pour the egg mixture over the cheese layer. Push the bread cubes down so that they are covered by the custard. Cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator to soak for 4-12 hours. If you need to put weight on top of the wrap to keep the bread submerged, use a plate and pie weights or rice.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and remove strata from the refrigerator. Bake for at least 50 minutes and then start checking for doneness. If the edges are cooking too fast, then tent them with foil. The custard is done when it's puffed up and brown on top. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.
Variations and Additions
Pepper jack and sweet bell pepper (see photos) - Use pepper jack — it's added spice without an added ingredient. Chop 1 cup of red, orange and/or yellow bell pepper and sautee with the onions for 5 minutes. Fold into egg mixture.
Extra cheese - Sprinkle 1 cup of grated parmesan on top of the custard, just before placing in the oven.
Spinach and sun-dried tomato - Sautee one bag (10 ounces) spinach, 3/4 cup of sundried tomatoes and one clove minced garlic in olive oil. Place mixture on top of the bread before adding the layer of Swiss cheese.
Chorizo, cheddar and chilis - Sautee 16 ounces pork chorizo in a large skillet. Using a slotted spoon, transfer meat to a paper towel lined plate. Place meat on top of bread layer. Next, use cheddar for the cheese layer. Mix a 4 ounce can of drained green chilis and fold into the egg mixture.
Ham and asparagus - Use swiss cheese. Add 1 cup cooked cubed ham and 1 cup cooked asparagus cut into 1 inch pieces to the egg mixture.
Not sure where to pick up eggs, including delicious local and free-range options? Try these local stores: