Something Different for Sunday Brunch
A Sunday brunch with pastry, eggs, fresh fruit, and a variety of bacon, ham or sausage may be typical fare, but offering this dish will certainly make you stand out. Strata is an American egg-based casserole, layered with vegetables, meat and cheese between an eggy custard-like bread. It is a savory variation of bread pudding and a perfect addition to Sunday brunch. This recipe can be served as a side dish or as the entree, depending on your needs.
A Note on Mushrooms…
For the wild mushrooms, I like to use a selection of maitake (Hen of the Woods), white bunashimeji (White Beech) and baby oyster mushrooms, however you may want to use whatever is in season at your local grocery store. I’ve seen chanterelles, porcini, baby morels and lobster mushrooms at my local Kroger, Whole Foods and Costco. Just ask the manager if you have a specific request (squeaky wheel!). There are also fine dried wild mushroom mixes out there which can help save money. Just reconstitute them by soaking in very hot water for 10-15 minutes. You can also find wild mushrooms available online by checking the Shop Ingredients section on this website.
For wine pairings, try wines with some bottle age. Aromas with earthy and mushroom notes will work well with the savory character of truffles. Try Bordeaux, 2016 France. Avoid light and fruity wines.
Wild Mushroom, Asparagus, Ham and Italian White Truffle Strata
The Strata was popularized in the iconic 1984 Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook as an alternative to quiche or frittata. It's really just a layered savory bread pudding. The earliest known recipe is from 1902 for a cheese strata, but that recipe had no eggs.
The strata can be served as a main course or side dish depending on your needs. It's delicious warm or even at room temperature. With the addition of truffle butter, the dish is rich and memorable.
- 3 tbsp white truffle butter separated in half
- 1 lbs asparagus cut into one inch pieces
- 2 cups ham, cubed about 3/4 lbs of ham
- 8 oz mushrooms, any wild variety will do or substitute crimini (Oyster, Hen of the Woods, White Beech)
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 1 cup white onion, medium, minced
- 1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
- 2 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
- 9 whole egg, beaten
- 9 slices Texas Toast or thick 1" slice white bread
- 1 cup white cheddar, shredded
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
- 1 1/2 cups milk or half and half
- To taste sea salt
- To taste black pepper, coarse grind
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees.
Prepare a 9x10 casserole dish by buttering well, with 1/2 half of the Italian white truffle butter.
Remove the woody bottom of the asparagus and cut the spears into 1" pieces.
Cut the ham into 1/2" slices and cube the slices of ham.
Clean and cut the wild mushrooms into large bite size pieces. (Mushrooms will shrink when cooked.)
Peel and mince the white onions.
To prepare the fresh herbs: Remove the thyme leaves and discard the stems, chop the leaves and reserve. Remove the tarragon leaves and discard the stems, chop the leaves and reserve.
Using a cheese grater, shred a block of white or aged cheddar (or purchase the grated white cheddar) and reserve. Use the same method for the 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese and reserve.
Heat a large skillet or sauté pan on medium-high heat with the other half of Italian white truffle butter. When the butter has melted, add the minced white onion. Stir often and cook until the onion is translucent. Add the wild mushrooms with a pinch of salt and white pepper. Cook the onion mushroom mixture until almost all of the water in the mushrooms is gone.
While the vegetable mixture is cooking, add 9 whole eggs to a stand or hand mixer and whisk the eggs until they are smooth and the beater comes out cleanly without long strands of egg white. (You can beat the eggs by hand if you wish). Add the 1 1/2 cups of half-and-half and whisk to incorporate. Add all of the white cheddar and reserve.
Once the onion and mushroom mixture has cooked, add the cut asparagus and thyme. Cook the asparagus until just done (about 3 minutes), remove from the heat, and add the chopped tarragon. Stir the vegetables to mix in the tarragon. Allow to mixture to cool.
Cut the Texas Toast or 1" slice of white bread into cubes and place into a large mixing bowl. Pour the egg/milk/cheese mixture over the bread cubes. Using your hands, mix the bread gently with the egg mixture without breaking up the bread cubes. Allow the egg mixture to soak into the bread cubes for 5 minutes.
To prepare for baking: Add half of the bread mixture to the bottom of the prepared baking dish. On this, add half of the vegetable mixture. Repeat with another layer of the bread mixture followed by the other half of the vegetable mixture. Cover the whole dish with aluminum foil and place on the center rack of the preheated 350 degree oven.
Bake the strata for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully remove the aluminum foil. Sprinkle the top of the strata with the parmesan cheese, replace the aluminum foil and return to the oven for 30 minutes more.
After the second 30 minute baking time, the strata should be done. The center should be set but a little creamy. Allow the strata to rest for a few minutes and serve.
For my Aussie and European friends, half-and-half is not available commercially in your countries. You will need to make your own, which (as the name implies) is super easy. Half the amount of cream to half the amount of whole milk.