Monday, December 24, 2012

Spinach, Mushroom and Bacon Strata

As most of you know, I work in a kitchenware store, and the long hours coming up for the next couple of weeks are keeping me from experimenting in the kitchen. So what you'll find posted here is just like TV in the summer: reruns. I'll be posting some of my more popular and interesting posts for the next couple of weeks, and will be back with new recipes and rants in the New Year. May you all have all the best and happiest things in your life for the Christmas Season and in the New Year. And thank you for coming along for the ride with me so far.

Sometimes, I get lazy. Even though I love to cook, often I'd rather hang out with a cup of coffee in the morning, or with a glass of wine in the evening and not have to fuss much over a meal for the assembled family. This usually happens over the holidays or on vacation. Unfortunately, I also have a solid case of Italian Guilt, instilled most thoroughly by my mother years ago that I haven't been able to shake. Its forced me to find something delectable to serve the gang that won't force me to run around the kitchen at the last moment. Usually it ends up being a make ahead dish, and a good one. A strata.

In case you aren't up on just what a strata is, I'll explain. A strata is a layered dish, involving bread, eggs and usually cheese, plus whatever other goodies (generally pre-cooked) you want to add in. As it bakes, it puffs, almost soufflé-like and then settles into a rich, puffy, creamy dish that you can have for pretty much any meal. You can make them savory or sweet, both versions are great additions to your cooking repertoire.

The nice part is that a strata is much better if you assemble it hours in advance, or the night before, and let it set in the fridge until baking time. It bakes in about an hour, which gives the cook time for that second cup of coffee, or glass of wine. For breakfast or brunch with a savory strata, all you need is some fruit on the side, and maybe some pastry; for lunch or dinner, a good salad or a side vegetable, or a cold soup before the strata  is nice. If you choose to make a sweet one, it makes a wonderful breakfast  or a fabulous dessert for a light meal. I promise to give you a sweet strata recipe later into the Autumn.

I've been making this version for years, but I've adopted a technique from Cook's Illustrated recently that adds some weights on top of the casserole while it chills. I think it really does improve the texture. I always chill the assembled strata at least 8 hours before baking to be sure all the stale bread has had a chance to soak up the eggs and cream. I just make it up before I go to bed, and let it rest while I do.

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

Spinach, Mushroom and Bacon Strata
Serves 6-8
Spinach, Mushroom & Bacon strata. Cheesy and easy to make ahead, 
and so delicious1


8 slices of stale Italian bread, sliced 1/2" thick
4T unsalted butter, softened
6 slices of smoked bacon, roughly chopped
8 oz. sliced cremini mushrooms
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 10oz. box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
8 oz. Gruyere cheese, shredded
6 large eggs
1-1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup light cream
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. kosher salt
ground black pepper
cooking spray or butter for pan


Spray an 8" square baking dish with cooking spray or butter liberally. Spread one side of each slice of bread with a half tablespoon of butter, and set aside. In a large non-stick frying pan, cook the bacon until just crisp, and then remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain, leaving the bacon fat in the pan. Add the onions and mushrooms to the fat, and cook until the onions are soft, about 5-6 minutes over medium high heat. Add the spinach to the pan and stir until heated through. Turn off the heat, and mix in the bacon. Set the pan off the hot burner.

Place 4 slices of the bread in the bottom of the prepared pan, buttered side up. Distribute 1/2 of the spinach mixture over the bread evenly, and then sprinkle over 1/3 of the shredded Gruyere. Arrange the remaining 4 slices on top of the cheese, more or less in the opposite direction from the bottom slices. Top with all the remaining spinach mixture, and then 1/2 of the remaining cheese.

Whisk together the eggs, the milk, the cream, the nutmeg, kosher salt and black pepper to taste, and por the mixture carefully over the top of the bread and spinach mixture in the baking dish. Place a large  sheet of plastic wrap flush on top of the top cheese layer, and place a small, heavy frying pan ( or as Cook's suggests 2 1-pound boxes of sugar) on top of the plastic wrap to weigh down the bread. Chill it weighed down for at least 3 hours, or overnight. When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 325ºF, remove the weights and the plastic wrap and sprinkle over the remaining Gruyere cheese and bake for 55-65 minutes, until browned and puffed.  Serve hot or at room temperature, and remember, it will deflate just about as soon as it comes out of the oven, and that's supposed to happen...

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