Make Your Own Strata
Serves 8 abundantly, up to 12 more modest servings
1 loaf Italian bread, or about 1-1/2 baguettes, sliced ¾-inch thick. It’s better to use day-old bread. If that’s not possible, try baking the slices at 250 degrees F for about 15 minutes to dry them out a bit, then let cool.
1 pound cooked meat cut in small pieces – either one meat or a combination, cold or at room temperature. Like breakfast or Italian sausage, chicken, turkey, ham, shrimp, or bacon. If you want to use bacon, try 4 ounces along with 12 ounces of a different meat.
2 cups packed grated cheese, divided use – either one cheese or a combination. Like Gruyere, cheddar, Swiss, Muenster, Manchego, Parmesan, or Pecorino Romano. If you’re using Parmesan or Pecorino, use only ½ cup and 1-1/2 cups of a different cheese.
1 pound of greens – spinach, chard, kale, or collards. You can mix and match if you like, but one is usually better because not all greens take the same amount of time to cook.
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half
9 large eggs
3 cups milk, or a combination of 2 cups milk and 1 cup cream
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Lightly oil a 13 x 9-inch Pyrex or ceramic dish and set aside. Take the tougher stems off the greens, finely chop the stems and roughly chop the leaves. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet, and add the stems with a little salt. Cook for about 5 minutes. Then add the leaves in batches, cooking until they wilt. For kale or collards, turn the heat down to low, cover the pan, and cook for 5-10 minutes until tender. Spinach and chard will be cooked enough when they wilt. Scrape the greens into a colander to drain and cool. When they’re cool, squeeze some water out with a big spoon or with your hands, then roughly chop and set aside.
In the same skillet, heat another tablespoon of oil and saute the onion with a little salt until it starts to brown around the edges, about 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute, then add the diced-up meat. Stir everything well, then let cool.
Whisk the eggs and milk/cream with 1 teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, and two pinches of Cayenne. Set aside.
Fit a layer of bread slices in the bottom of the greased baking dish. Cut up a couple of slices to fill any large gaps. Layer on the cooked greens, then the tomatoes, then half the meat/onion mixture, and half the cheese. Top with another layer of bread slices (patching the large gaps), and then layer on the remaining meat/onion mixture. Don’t put the rest of the cheese on at this point, set the remaining cup of cheese in the fridge.
Carefully pour the egg/milk mixture over the bread. Do it slowly, and make sure it’s evenly distributed. Cover the pan with foil that you’ve sprayed with some nonstick baking spray, and put it in the fridge for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
Take the strata out of the fridge about an hour before you want to start baking. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Put the strata in the oven, foil and all, and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil, and top with the remaining cup of cheese. Bake, uncovered for 15 minutes until the cheese has melted and the edges of the bread get a little browned. Let the strata rest for 5 minutes, then serve.