Friday, April 8, 2011

Lighter, Quicker Strata with Asparagus and Bacon

When Sous Chef Brian came home and asked what we were having, I said, "asparagus strata."  He said, "Erik Estrada?" I should note that I'm far too young to have watched CHiPs, but Sous Chef Brian is not.  Also, I know Erik Estrada from Sea Lab 2021, which was, for a very intense two-week span nearly 10 years ago, my favorite show.    I enunciated more clearly.  "Asparagus Strata."  He looked at me like a confused animal, which makes sense.  He doesn't get out to a lot of brunches or baby showers, and I had no clue what strata was before I started making it.

I had a vegetable strata at DiBruno Brothers about six months ago.  I didn't know what it was, but it looked pretty and it was vegetables.  It was tall, and had many layers, and it was delicious.  So this week I started looking for recipes.   I was surprised it was a brunch food, I would have called it "casserole" when I had it and been done with that. 

When I started researching recipes, I was shocked at how much egg it contained.   Over and again I saw easy-to-measure recipes that called for 12 ounces of cheese, 12 slices of bread and 12 eggs. 

I can't do that.  I can't put 12 eggs into dinner.  I can't halve it and put 6 eggs into dinner.  It just doesn't feel right.   I can, however, put less egg in, especially in order to justify bacon.  Also, these recipes called for sitting overnight, and that's not my thing.  And so lighter, quicker strata happened.

I started with a bunch of asparagus.

It's not time for asparagus yet, but I'm getting impatient with the produce.  My CSA doesn't start for another 8 weeks. 

I cut it up bite-sized and steamed it lightly, keeping some crunch.  Ok, by "steamed," I'm referring to my microwave.  You're free to steam it standing upright and correctly, if that's important to you. 

Then I looked at the bread bag in the freezer.  We've talked about this, I have a lot of things in my freezer, including whole bananas and butter wrappers.  I also have a bag full of bread ends.  I've been doing this since before I started making bread, holding on to the heels of bread to make breadcrumbs or stuffing or whatever.   In fact, some of these bread slices dated back to the time of storebought bread.  Maybe I'm a little bit prissy and I don't want all that crust on my samich.  Also, it's hard to use the heels of my homemade bread - that last slice is usually fairly thick.   So it all goes into the bag when I get frustrated with it.   I dumped out the bag and found six slices, a mix of homemade and storebought wheat breads.

I tore the bread into bits.

I started by cutting it into cubes, and then realized I didn't care. 
At the same time, I cooked up 3 slices of bacon.  I reserved the grease, because I was going to have to grease the pan with something, and why not that?  You could use butter.  I'm sure it'd be delicious.   So I greased the pan with bacon fat and put a little bit more than half the bread in the bottom, to just cover the dish.

On top of the bread layer, I added all of the asparagus and a half cup of parsley.  I don't think the parsley is necessary, but I had it handy so why not?

Then I topped all that with the bacon, torn into small pieces.

I need a new camera.
And some shredded cheese.  I think gruyere would be perfect here - I had some super-mild sheep's milk cheese with peppercorns in it.  I shredded three ounces.

And I topped all of that with the rest of the bread.

Egg, right?  That's what this is all about anyway.   I used three eggs and two egg whites.  That's what I do when I make us an omelete as well.  Omelette.  Omlet.  Eggs.  I whisked them together with a quarter-cup skim milk and about a half teaspoon red pepper flakes.   You might want to add some black pepper at this point too - between the cheese and the bacon, you're all set for salt, but we both added pepper at dinnertime.

I poured the eggs over top, and since it was less liquid than most recipes called for, it didn't quite cover.  I shook the dish and tilted it back and forth to distribute the egg and milk mixture.

And then placed a layer of plastic wrap over top, and covered it in cans of food. 

I used pineapple, chick peas, minestrone and diced tomatoes.  This is unimportant.
The intent here is to submerge everything in the egg mixture.  I put it into the fridge for an hour.

After an hour, I let it sit on the counter for 20 minutes to warm back up (I switched out the cans, since these had been in the fridge and might keep it too cold) and preheated the oven to 325.

I removed the cans and plastic and put it in for 30 minutes.   At that point, it felt solid, and cake-style, a toothpick dipped in the center came out dry. 

I dialed the oven up to 500, and dotted the top of the strata with butter. 

Ooh, bubbly cheese.  I was afraid that was egg white, and that somehow my eggs had completely separated and this was going to be weird, but that's not the case, it's tasty, bubbly cheese. 

Back in for 10 minutes to get it crispy on top.

And that's pretty much it.  We were both fans, and I can imagine filling it with all sorts of veg.   Very thinly sliced zucchini?  Sounds rad.  More layers?  Sure.

This made one smallish casserole full.  I'm not one to measure my pans.   We each took small slices  - 2x3?- at first and then we each went back.  So in the end we can say this was two dinners and two lunches.   What does that mean nutritionally? 

According to NutritionData, a quarter of the dish - and I'm estimating really, because I called all the bread "store bought wheat bread" and I called the cheese "swiss," contains 307 calories, 14 grams of fat, 22 grams of protein, a good bit of vitamin A, calcium and iron, 6 grams of fiber, 401 mg of sodium... and 166 mg of cholesterol.   55% of the RDA of cholesterol for someone on a 2000 calorie diet.   Damnit, eggs.  The bacon can't be blamed.  It's responsible (bacon, plus fat) for like 3%.  The rest is all that yolk.

So if you're not tracking cholesterol, or if you're vegan before 6 and can make this fit in for dinner, this is a reasonable meal.

Update:  I accidentally made strata "right" in this post.  Both have their place. 

Ever had an awesome strata?  Want to argue for eggs, in spite of the cholesterol?  Have great brunch ideas?  Let me know about it in the comments

print recipe

Lighter Asparagus and Bacon Strata
Fewer eggs, skim milk, still creamy and rich.
  • 6 slices whole wheat bread, cubed
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 oz shredded gruyere
  • 1 bunch asparagus, cut small
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley
  • 3 slices cooked bacon, cut into bits
  • 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • just a dab of bacon fat or butter
Steam the asparagus. Grease a small baking dish with either butter or bacon fat. Cover bottom of dish with half the cubed bread. Layer in asparagus, parsley, bacon and cheese.Top with remaining bread. Whisk together egg, milk, and red pepper flakes. Pour over dish, distributing evenly. Put a sheet of plastic wrap over the dish, and top with cans or other dishes to weigh it down. Refrigerate an hour to overnight. Preheat oven to 325. Bring dish to room temperature. Bake strata for 30 minutes or until set. Check with a toothpick.Raise oven temperature to 500. Dot the top of the strata with butter. Cook at 500 degrees until crispy and brown on top.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 4 servings

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