Christmas breakfast: The gift of time
By Scott Banks
Planet Food Guy
Christmas is the time of excess, but one commodity we don’t have is an excess of time. The precious hours seem to melt away as we hustle for last-minute shopping, parties and shipping off the last Christmas cards. So, what to serve for breakfast on Christmas morning might not occur to you until the last minute.
I like strata, a rustic cousin of a quiche or frittata. My foodie sister calls it a no-fail dish compared to similar dishes like a soufflé. Start with cubed day-old bread, mix up a custard (essentially eggs, milk, and a dash of nutmeg), then pitch in whatever you please: sausage, bacon, ham, Italian sausage, broccoli, mushrooms, onions, green chilies, potatoes, cheese—you get the idea. The bonus is that you can assemble it the night before, refrigerate it and it’s ready to slide into the oven the next morning. Think of it, on Christmas morning all you have to do is switch on the oven.
You can make the job easier if you buy pre-cooked sausage and bacon (The bacon is salty, but handy). Buy the grated cheese that comes in bags. Everybody likes Monterey jack or cheddar cheese. Some cheese comes pre-mixed – the Italian and Mexican cheese mixes, for instance. I always like something sharp like Parmesan or Asiago on the top.
Use a loaf of dense bread and leave the Wonder bread for your kid’s peanut butter sandwiches. You want bread with some tooth that can hold up to the custard that holds this together.
Strata not ringing your Christmas bell? My oldest son insists on monkey bread (slow cooker version: http://tinyurl.com/ldpzrue). It’s another dish you prepare the night before and slide into the oven the next morning. I do not deny him this pleasure, but to maintain stamina to last the long day, and avoid a sugar hangover, we serve bacon and scrambled eggs on the side. Check that, now he wants to make biscuit and gravy. Kids. I want all three.
Here is a basic recipe, based on a strata by Giada De Laurentiis.
Strata with Italian Sausage, Bacon and Spinach
3 cups whole milk
10 large eggs
1/2 pound bacon, chopped and cooked
1/2 pound Italian sausage
1/2 onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt (divided)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (divided)
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 (10-ounce) box chopped frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
1 1/2 cup cheese (cheddar, jack, a mix, whatever you like)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
8 cups cubed bread,
Sauté bacon until crisp, set aside. Sauté Italian sausage, set aside. Add the onion to the pan drippings in the same skillet and sauté until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the spinach and garlic. Sauté over medium-low heat until the garlic is tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, nutmeg, and the bacon and Italian sausage.
Place half of the bread cubes in a buttered 3-quart or 9×13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the bread, then top with half of the spinach mixture. Repeat layering.
Whisk the milk, eggs, remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper in a large bowl and pour evenly over the strata. Chill, covered with plastic wrap, at least 2 hours and up to 12 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Bake strata uncovered until puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 40 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.