Friday, November 16, 2012

Holiday Breakfast Strata


It's fun to make something special for a holiday morning.  This strata (basically a layered baked casserole) is perfect for several reasons: you make it the night before so all you have to do the next morning is bake it, you can scale it up or down for the number of people in your hungry horde, and it's hearty enough to keep the horde satisfied until the big meal later on. Oh, and it makes your house smell great while it's baking. All you need to complete the breakfast is some fruit, coffee and juice.  Think about this recipe for Thanksgiving or Christmas morning, or if you're going to have houseguests over the holiday season or plan to host a brunch.

I'm a big fan of stratas and have tried many over the years.  I like the combination of ingredients in this one - sausage, red bell pepper, asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms - because it's colorful and it tastes great.  But stratas are a lot like pizzas (everyone has their own favorite ingredients) so feel free to vary the specifics to suit the tastes of your group. You can vary the meat by substituting ham or turkey or bacon instead of Italian sausage, you can vary the cheese by substituting cheddar for Gouda, and you can choose any combination of vegetables.  Just be sure to choose at least one or two vegetables with bright colors (peppers, broccoli, etc.) for visual appeal. It's a great way to use up leftover ingredients in your refrigerator too.  I used a combination of shiitake and cremini mushrooms because that's what I had on hand; ditto the half and half combo of hot and sweet Italian turkey sausage.

The basic idea of a strata is to combine a bunch of  tasty ingredients with bread cubes, cheese, and a milk/egg custard.  The custard soaks into the bread overnight and the whole thing becomes solid when baked so it cuts easily. 

A note about mushrooms:  they're mostly water so cooking them in a pan until they release their water and are browned will intensify their flavor significantly.  I often carmelize them in this way prior to putting them a cooked dish to bring out their flavor.  Check out the "before" and "after" pictures below and you'll see how much they shrink as they release water.

Don't just cook them until they're soft - continue cooking for a few minutes after all the water has evaporated so they have a chance to brown.  That's where the flavor comes from.  For this recipe I started cooking the mushrooms first to carmelize them prior to putting the other vegetables in for just a few minutes so they wouldn't get too soft.  Remember they'll cook some in the oven also.

While the vegetables are cooking you can shred the cheese, cut up the bread, and mix the eggs, milk and seasonings.

Then you assemble the strata and refrigerate it overnight.  I decided to make a small version since The Lawyer and I were going to have it for dinner (it's equally good for breakfast or dinner).  If you have a bigger crowd you can double the recipe and put it in a 9x13 pan.  Then all you have to do the next day is bake it while you make coffee and get some fruit ready.

Sausage, Asparagus & Wild Mushroom Strata
Serves 6

 Note: this recipe may be doubled and put in a 9x13” pan.

2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces asparagus, trimmed, cut diagonally into 1” pieces
3 green onions, sliced
1/3 cup diced red bell pepper
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
6-8 ounces wild mushrooms (shiitake or cremini), trimmed and sliced
12 ounces turkey Italian sausage (sweet, hot, or a 50/50 blend), removed from casings
½ loaf sourdough bread, cut into 1” cubes
1 ½ cups shredded Gouda cheese
6 eggs, slightly beaten
1 ¾ cups milk
¼ teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter and add mushrooms.  Cook and stir until the moisture has evaporated and the mushrooms begin to brown, about 5 minutes.  Add the asparagus and red bell pepper and sauté for 2 more minutes.  Put the vegetable mixture in a medium bowl with the green onions and sun-dried tomatoes.

Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet and add the Italian sausage, breaking it up with a spoon as it cooks until it begins to brown and is no longer pink inside.  Add the sausage to the vegetable bowl.

While the sausage cooks, whisk the eggs and milk with the thyme, salt and pepper.

Spray a 9x9” or 9x11” pan with cooking spray.  Arrange half the bread cubes in the baking dish, then layer half the sausage and vegetable mixture.  Sprinkle with half the shredded cheese.  Add the remaining bread cubes and top with the remaining sausage and vegetables.  Pour the egg mixture evenly over the strata.  Use a fork to press the sausage mixture and bread into the milk mixture until all the bread is moist.  Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight, reserving the remaining cheese.

To bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake uncovered for 60 minutes, then sprinkle with the reserved cheese and bake an additional 5 minutes until the cheese melts.  Let stand 10 minutes before cutting to serve.



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