While I’m not big on resolutions, I decided to begin this year by making an effort to use up Good Things that I had in my pantry: Good Things, before they go Bad.
Too often I have been overly enthusiastic about a product, purchasing, for instance, too much stone ground wheat flour, only to have it turn rancid on the shelf because I didn’t do the bread baking I had envisioned. Or, I’ve been too protective of a product, like a spectacular bottle of reserve extra virgin olive oil, that I “saved” for special use, only to find it months later pushed to the back of the pantry, it, too, gone south.
So, when I was casting about my kitchen last week for a Sunday brunch treat for us, I realized that I had all the Good Things on hand to make this appealing strata:
Tomatoes from the 2009 canning season—–It’s 2011, what are you waiting for?
A bag of cubed bread in the freezer———No Time Like the Present
Fresh Mozzarella from a New Year’s purchase—Use It Now or Lose It
Summer Pesto——That’s why you put it up!
Stratas are simple. They are mock souffles, and lend themselves to myriad variations. The bread makes them somewhat sturdy, and therefore you can make rather sizeable ones. Once, one of our Third-Thursday Potluckers, Jen, brought a stunning Tomato-Goat Cheese Strata in an 10 qt. Le Creuset pot that was absolutely dreamy—deep, custardy, with a tomato essence that just tasted of summer. It was the hit of the wintertime potluck dinner!
On a chilling January afternoon, a taste of summer would be most welcome.
And, on this chilling January afternoon, my skillet filled with the tastes of summer. Ah, the acid-candy sweetness of my Brandywines and Lemon Boys. The peppery bite of Genovese basil.
I reminded myself that this is one of the true joys of canning tomatoes—-the first time you crack open the jar in winter. There, red-gold in your hand, are all those sweet aspects of summer-on-the-vine.
It transports you out of the winter drear into the tangle of an August garden.
I would have made my strata like Jen’s–with goat cheese. The tanginess that it imparted was terrific. But, some delectable Buffalo Mozzarella packed in liquid, stored in my fridge, was not going to remain delectable for long. It was begging to be used, and would be a creamy asset to this strata. Spoonfuls of my summer pesto would give the mild cheese pizzazz.
Very quickly, the baking vessel fills with glistening layers. You can even make the strata to this point, and refrigerate it overnight to bake fresh in the morning. It’s that easy!
But, the best part awaits you—-when it emerges puffed and beautifully browned from the oven. And, I promise, an airy scoop of this strata will bring last summer’s garden to this winter’s plate.
1 medium Onion, sliced thin
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 can (16oz) Tomatoes and Juice
3 cups Cubed Stale Bread
4-6 oz. fresh Mozzarella
4 T. Pesto
1 cup Half-and Half
Cracked Black Pepper
9×13 casserole dish or 1 qt. size souffle dish
Heat a skillet, add olive oil, and saute onions and garlic until translucent. Add chopped tomatoes and their juice and continue to simmer. Season with salt, black pepper, a dash of red pepper flakes, if you like. When the sauce has cooked for about 10 minutes, remove from heat and stir in the stale bread cubes. Stir until all the bread is coated with the tomato mixture.
In a bowl, beat eggs and half-and-half together until blended. Whisk in a little salt and pepper.
Coat a casserole dish or souffle ramekin with olive oil. Spoon in a layer of tomato-bread mixture. Top with a layer of sliced mozzarella. Spoon some pesto over the mozzarella. Repeat the layering.
Carefully pour the egg mixture over the tomato-cheese layers. You can poke through the strata with a fork, or even a chopstick, to make sure the mixture gets through the layers.
Place into a preheated 350º oven and bake until puffed and golden brown—about 30 minutes. Serves 4