New Year’s Day brunch is a time for relaxing – for you as the host, as well as for your guests. Whether you were partying on New Year’s Eve, pretending to party, or just taking it easy, making the main course before you start your evening makes the next day’s brunch a snap.
Strata is the perfect main course for a New Year’s Day brunch because it “rests” in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours (up to a day) before baking. You can put it together the day before, wake up on New Year’s Day and pull it out of the refrigerator, let it warm up a bit on the counter, then pop it into the oven. It’s a savory cousin of bread pudding, using the same egg and milk base, but with cheese, vegetables and/or meat instead of sweets like raisins and chocolate.
Like bread pudding, strata comes in many variations. Mine includes ham and cheese, with sliced mushrooms added just because I like them. I think of it as a baked casserole-mushrooms-added version of a Croque Monsieur, the classic French ham-and-cheese sandwich favored by Julia Child.
Ham and Cheese Strata
Servings – 4 large/6 medium servings Total Cost – $12.95/less than $3.25 per serving
- 5 eggs
- 2 cups of whole milk
- ¼ teaspoon salt & several good dashes of pepper
- 2 teaspoons of Dijon-style mustard
- ¾ – 1 cup finely chopped onion (about 1 medium-large onion)
- 8 ounces small-medium mushrooms (preferably portabella), rinsed, dried and thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or butter or combination of the two for sauté, plus more for greasing casserole
- 6 cups of cubed bread, preferably good French, Italian, sourdough, or another type that is not too soft. If the crust is thick and hard, cut it off, or at least the thickest parts of crust. The cubes should be about 1” (from the tip of your thumb to the first joint). Stale bread is great for this recipe. If the bread is fresh and soft, let it slowly get a bit harder, to the point where it seems almost stale by baking it in a 300 degree toaster oven for about 10-20 minutes. This will allow the bread to absorb the egg-milk custard mixture better.
- ¼ pound thinly sliced deli ham
- 4 ounces (about 1 cup pressed firmly down) grated hard cheese, preferably Gruyère
- 2 ounces (about ¾ cup not pressed down) grated Parmesan cheese
(Not pictured – cookie sheet to place the strata casserole on while baking. That will prevent any overflow drippings from hitting your oven floor and burning.)
- 1½ quart casserole with sides no higher than 2½ inches. Mine is 10” x 7¼” x 2¼” (If you are unsure of your casserole’s cspacity, measure how much water it holds – 6 cups of water equals 1½ quarts.)
- 1 cup liquid measure
- 1 cup solid measures
- Measuring spoons
- 3 bowls
- Large fork (for stirring custard)
- Cutting board
- Knives for cutting onion and bread
- Pan for sautéing the onions and mushrooms
- Plastic wrap to cover casserole
- Butter or oil the casserole well and set aside.
- Mix eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and mustard in 1 bowl and set aside. (Note: if you omit ham and add other vegetables, you may want to increase the salt to ½ teaspoon.)
- Heat the 2 tablespoons oil/butter until hot, but not smoking. Sauté the chopped onion in the heated oil/butter on medium heat for about 10 minutes, until transparent.
Add the sliced mushrooms for another 5 minutes, until they have wilted. Set aside.
- Grate the two cheeses and mix them in a bowl. Set aside. (Note that it is more accurate to weigh cheese than to measure it by cup, and in any event, it is sold by weight.)
- Cut the bread into cubes and bake if necessary to firm up the cubes (as noted above.)
- Cut the ham slices into pieces by slicing them lengthwise, then widthwise.
- Once you are ready to assemble, put all of the ingredients and the greased casserole together before you begin to layer the strata. (Remember Rule # 6 – be organized!)
- Put about ⅓ of bread cubes in the casserole. Cover the bread with ⅓ of the ham and the onion/mushroom mixture, then a bit less than ⅓ of cheese.
Repeat twice, ending with cheese. There should be a bit of cheese left.
- Stir the egg/milk mixture again if it has settled, then pour it over the casserole. Top with the remaining cheese, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
- The next day, take casserole out of refrigerator about 1½ hours before you want to serve it. Leave it on the counter for 30 – 45 minutes while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Once the oven is pre-heated, take off the plastic wrap and place the casserole on a cookie sheet to catch any drippings. Bake the casserole for about 50 -60 minutes, until it is browned and seems custard-like when you stick a fork into the middle. (If the top is already brown before the strata seems done, you can cover it with tin foil while it continues to bake.) Let the strata stand 5 minutes out of the oven before cutting it.