I'm not alone in loving this easy breakfast casserole. Why?
Stratas are economical. A dish doesn't get much cheaper, more basic or more appropriate for a late-morning gathering than this combo of eggs, milk, bread and cheese.
Stratas can be made ahead. In fact, most recipes for it recommend an overnight rest in the fridge. They hold up well. Unlike a souffle that immediately puffs and collapses, or scrambled eggs that turn rubbery and cold in seconds, strata is slow to deteriorate, even during a long stint on a buffet table.
Leftovers reheat beautifully in the microwave. I recently set out to find a strata that tasted top-notch. Which kind of bread, milk and cheese, and what quantity of eggs, would make the best possible strata?
Top Tips for Brunch Stratas:
- Basic white bread is best. Unlike higher-quality loaves (such as a good Italian bread), which remained chewy and distinct, soft white bread easily absorbed the milk-egg mixture. There was an added benefit from this unified trio: The resulting custard didn't curdle during baking.
- Leave the slices whole. Some strata recipes tell you to cut the bread into cubes; others recommend using whole slices. Not only did cubing the bread add a step to the recipe, but the casserole tended to puff unevenly during baking, then deflate. Fitting whole bread slices snugly in a 9-by-13-inch pan kept the strata from looking like a lumpy mattress.
- Half-and-half proved better than plain milk, delivering a custard that wasn't overly rich or watery. Whole eggs--three for every cup of half-and-half--resulted in a custard that was supple yet firm. I also liked the neat-and-tidy formula that was starting to develop: 1 quart of half-and-half to 1 dozen eggs.
- Extra-sharp cheese and scallions perked up the flavor. Teaming milk, white bread and eggs with anything less than extra-sharp cheddar would have resulted in a bland, uninteresting casserole. Scallions improved the strata's looks and gave it a fresh, pleasant bite.
It was simple to change the look and flavor of the strata once I learned that 1 pound each of two flavoring ingredients offered the perfect ratio of filling to bread and custard--a pound each of bell peppers and spinach, for example, or a pound each of mushrooms and sausage. So enjoy creating your own combinations using ingredients that are in season or on hand, and be prepared for compliments.
Must-See Strata and Casserole Recipe Videos:
See our Top 20 Strata Recipes.
Copyright 2004 USA Weekend and columnist Pam Anderson. All rights reserved.