Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ham, Cheese, and Spinach Strata

Breakfast: Nutritionists call it the most important “power meal of the day, in which you literally “break” your overnight “fast.” Ron and I love switching it up at breakfast time. We like variety, enjoying everything from yogurt smoothies to cold or cooked cereals to pancakes to muffins to french toast to eggs and fresh fruit. Um ... not all at once! Let a little imagination and a sense of adventure liven up your breakfasts!
Today’s recipes (there’s a second post below this one, Dollinks) focus on breakfast - brunch, actually - and specifically, on the kind of brunch youd serve to guests. 

If you’ve never made a Strata, you’re in for a treat! In days gone by, Stratas were affectionately dubbed “Wife Savers” because they were prepared the night before and popped into the oven in the morning. 

Stratas are often served as a breakfast dish, but are great for any meal. Made with layered cheese, bread, and eggs, a Strata can be savory or sweet. You can add tomatoes, sweet peppers, or herbs such as basil. You can use an Italian baguette in place of white bread, or - instead of bread - you can use puff pastry. You can add vegetables such as broccoli, and any type of cheese you fancy. Stratas are fun to make because they employ creativity and are made in advance. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this easy-to-make dish  … Don’t forget to check out the Maple-Glazed Bacon recipe immediately below this post!
Ham, Cheese, and Spinach Strata:
3 tbsp. butter or margarine
1 medium onion, finely chopped
¾ lb. thinly sliced Black Forest ham, cut into wide ribbons
6 c. fresh baby spinach, coarsely chopped
2 c. grated Gruyere or Jarlsberg, or Swiss cheese
1 c. grated Parmesan (preferably Parmigiano Reggiano)
1 Italian baguette, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 7 c. of cubed bread)
9 large eggs
3 c. milk 
2 tbsp. Dijon-style mustard
2 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. coarse salt
¼ tsp. nutmeg
Dash of cayenne pepper
Coarsely ground pepper, to taste
Grease a 9 x 13-in. casserole dish. Melt butter in heavy skillet by swirling over medium-high heat. Stir in onion, cooking until soft and translucent. Add ham strips, cooking just until heated through and lightly browned. Quickly stir in fresh spinach, just until cooked. Remove from heat and set aside. In a small bowl, combine grated cheeses and set aside. 
Spread one-third of bread cubes in casserole dish. Top with one-third of ham-and-spinach mixture. Add one-third of combined cheeses. Repeat layers, ending with cheese. In a large bowl, combine eggs, milk, mustards, and seasonings, beating well with electric mixer. Pour evenly over Strata. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hr. or overnight. Allow to stand 30 min. at room temperature before baking. 
Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Bake Strata, uncovered, until bread is golden and eggs are set, 45-to-50 min. Let stand at room temperature a few minutes before serving. Yields 6-to-8 servings.
Note: If you prepare Maple-Glazed Bacon with this dish, pop bacon into the oven 15 min. before Strata finishes baking. Allow bacon to finish cooking while Strata rests at room temperature to fully set before serving.

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