Do-ahead egg dishes for the holiday
Make your holiday brunch or dinner a breeze
Make-ahead strata: Easier than souffles, less hands-on than pancakes and more forgiving than omelets, a puffy, moist breakfast strata is an easy dish to make. (Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune)
My favorite dishes leave me time to hunt for my Easter basket, since my mom still hides baskets for adults and grandkids alike. I'm thinking of do-ahead dishes such as casseroles, layered pastas and simple soups. Enter the egg strata — perhaps the perfect brunch offering to tuck into the oven and free me up for the hunt.
Easier than souffles, less hands-on than pancakes and more forgiving than omelets, a puffy, moist breakfast strata proves within range of most cooks. I think of egg stratas as the savory alternative to oven-baked French toast — another family standby. The only special equipment needed is an attractive baking pan — though a well-buttered, heavy-duty disposable foil pan will suffice.
Strata, as its name implies, means layering the ingredients in the dish. I'm not fussy about the assembly — usually opting for a layer of bread, topped with savory ingredients and a shower of cheese. All of the ingredients could simply be mixed in a large bowl if that suits the cook's temperament. More important is allowing enough time for the beaten egg and milk mixture to soak into the layers. When baked, the soaked bread will puff into a moist, almost puddinglike texture.
Whether cooking for company or family, the quality of the ingredients affects the end product. So I take pleasure in the procurement, seeking the best whenever possible. For the strata, rustic bread from the local bakery yields a more interesting flavor and toothsome texture than bread with lots of dough relaxers and additives. Milk and eggs from the local dairy taste fresher than their ultrapasteurized counterparts. Fresh vegetables offer better texture than frozen or canned.
Trouble is I often find that I have spent so much time shopping that I've run out of time to cook. So I do rely on a few convenience items such as bottled roasted peppers. (Rinse them before using to remove some of the added citric acid.) I do not try to save time by purchasing shredded cheese. The cellulose added to keep the cheese from clumping in the package also keeps it from melting beautifully. An inexpensive box grater will reduce a block of cheese to shreds in no time at all, and the finished texture is worth the effort.
The strata here is a real crowd-pleaser. Fresh zucchini, roasted peppers and two cheeses make the meatless recipe hearty. It also makes a terrific simple dinner, and leftovers reheat well in the microwave.
Serve the hot strata with a tossed salad littered with goodies such as toasted nuts, seasonal fruit, olives and a simple homemade vinaigrette. Brew really good coffee and serve fresh-squeezed juice. Enjoy! Then go find your Easter basket so you can have chocolate bunny for dessert.
Two-cheese, zucchini and roasted poblano strata
Prep: 45 minutes
Chill: 4 to 24 hours
Cook: 1 hour
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium zucchini or yellow squash (1 pound total), trimmed, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced
½ large sweet onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large each, roasted, peeled, seeded, diced: poblano pepper, red bell pepper