Spring has sprung, which means it’s time for beautiful weather, baseball, flowers, and if you are Italian….sweet desserts and egg-tastic meals! In the past few years I have highlighted some of the most traditional Italian Easter dishes – hame pie (pizza rustica), rice pie and Easter bread. This year I’m highlighting two recipes that put an alternative spin on traditional dishes.
This week we’re making Strata, which is an egg-based breakfast meal. Similar to frittata, strata incorporates an egg batter with a choice of fillings including various meats, cheeses and vegetables. Unlike frittata, which is cooked in a deep-dish frying pan on the stove top, strata is baked in a 13×9 baking dish. There is also one additional key ingredient – a nice, crusty loaf of Italian bread, cut up into cubes. Assembly is quite simple. You do a layer of bread. then a layer of fillings, a second layer of bread, then finished up with the egg batter. Once baked, you end up with a hearty, delicious egg casserole that has the texture and consistency of bread pudding. The other beautiful thing about this dish is that you can prepare it up to 12 hours in advance. All you have to do when you wake up is pop it in the oven for an hour. It’s the perfect meal when you’re hosting a breakfast at your house. It leaves you plenty of time to sit, relax and share a cup of coffee with everyone else!
IT’S AN OMELETTE, RIGHT?
This is the question that I get asked constantly about frittata, ham pie and strata. In theory, yes they all can, and often do, share the same ingredients. But that’s where the story ends. An omelette is all about the egg. You simply top it with your choice of ingredients, then fold the egg so that everything is contained inside the fold. I love me a good omelette, but we have the rest of the year for that. This time of year is about incorporating the sweet and spicy meats and the rich and sharp cheeses into the egg batter to make it all one.
SO IT’S JUST LIKE QUICHE, RIGHT?
In my opinion, quiche is again about the egg. The other ingredients are an an accent. The Easter pies, however, are about the ingredients working together as one. The egg’s main role is to keep everything in its place. It’s the glue to the creation. This is why my Mom always said, “give an Italian a few eggs and whatever leftover you have in the fridge, and you’ll have yourself a new meal.”
VARIETIES OF STRATA
There are endless ways to enjoy strata. You start with the three key ingredients: bread, eggs and milk. After that, the options for the filling are almost endless. You can do a traditional breakfast strata with sausage, bacon, ham and shredded cheese. Try classing it up a bit with prosciutto, pancetta and provolone! You can do spinach and feta (which, apparently, I have to make for my friend Elisa). You can go all veggie with peppers, mushrooms and asparagus. Or how about maple flavored sausage with some sprinkled cinnamon on top for a French Toast taste? And don’t limit this dish to breakfast. Throw one together before you head out to work and heat it up for dinner. No matter what time of day, or what time of year, I guarantee you will enjoy this dish.
For my version of Easter Strata, I am using turkey sausage, green peppers, green onions, cherry tomatoes, parmesan and cheddar cheese (I felt that this was a good balance to the other Easter pies and cakes that I will also be making).
1 loaf crusty Italian bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 cup cooked turkey sausage, crumbled
1 green or red bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup green onions, sliced thin
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
6 large eggs
3 cups milk
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Spray a 13×9 baking dish, place half of the bread pieces on the bottom of the dish.
Add the ground sausage, onions, peppers and parmesan cheese. Top with remainder of bread.
In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, milk, salt and pepper, and Italian seasoning. Pour on top of bread and filling mixture.
Push down lightly with a spatula so that the egg batter rises and coats all of the bread pieces.
Top with cheddar cheese and tomatoes.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, up to 12 hours.
Place in oven at 350º for 1 hour.
Let stand for 10 minutes. Cut into squares and serve.
NEXT WEEK – EASTER TREATS PART 2: ITALIAN LOVE CAKE!