The French call french toast pain perdu which translates literally to “bread lost.” This versatile, bubblin’-and-steamin’-from-the-oven creation is of the same ilk, in that it turns stale bread into a weekend brunch masterpiece. Corn, leeks, and ‘shrooms are three of my favorite local spring veggies, naturally sweet and nutty with divine textures. The Gruyère lends a hint of quiche Lorraine which, for those of us past the laughable “real men don’t eat quiche” phase, we can all agree is the gold standard of comfort-food egg dishes.
Most times I make strata, however, I Iron Chef ™ it out of ingredients on hand. The bread-egg-milk-cheese “master recipe” ratios can be combined with all manner of extras (your leftover veggie kabobs from last night, par example). Should you find yourself winging it like Debra Winger (I love you, Deb!) substitute whatever sautéing veggies you have available, along with whatever cheeses you have, except for of course (mon Dieu!) American.
- 6 farm eggs
- 2 cups milk (your choice, I use 1%. Whole will taste richer, dahling.)
- 1 TBS grain mustard
- 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper (plus more to taste)
- 3-4 oz. each Parmesan Reggiano and Gruyère cheeses, shredded
- 5-6 thick slices artisan bread (or 8 slices sandwich bread) cubed*
- 2 TBS olive oil (plus more)
- 2 leeks, trimmed; chopped, rinsed, and drained
- 2 ears of fresh corn, de-kerneled
- 4-5 oz sliced mushrooms (morel or chanterelle are divine, but crimini are great too)
- 1 TBS reserved bacon fat (I keep some in the fridge at all times) or 1 TBS butter
- 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
- fresh parsley, rinsed and chopped (optional)
Preheat oven to 350. Use some olive oil to grease the inside of a 9×13 (or thereabouts) baking dish. Heat 1 TBS bacon fat or butter in a sauté pan on med high. Add leeks, corn, and ‘shrooms. Sauté until leeks are wilted, adding 1 TBS olive oil along the way. Add 2 tsp balsamic vinegar plus salt and pepper to taste and continue sautéing until golden brown. Remove from heat and let cool. In a large bowl, whisk together first 4 ingredients (eggs through pepper) and set aside. Toss bread cubes in the baking dish with an extra drizzle of olive oil, then spread them out in a layer. Arrange cooled veggies on top of bread. (Pro tip: let a couple oiled bread corners stick up to create crispy brown peaks in the final product.) Pour egg mixture evenly over bread and veggies (watch for those peaks, perfectionists!). Sprinkle cheese mixture on top.
So the cheese will not stick during baking, oil the underside of a piece of tinfoil (rub extra oil into hands, elbows and cuticles) then cover dish tightly. Bake for 50 minutes or until center is bubbly. Remove foil and bake another 5-10 minutes or until top is lightly browned. Serve in squares with chopped parsley and a simple green or fruit salad. Voilà! Bread found.
*breadnotes: If bread is soft, strata can be made day-of. For a decadent, more custard-y treat, try Challah bread. For stale bread, assemble the night before and store covered in the fridge. For baseball-bat stale bread, break into chunks and steam covered in a basket with an inch of water for a couple minutes as you would broccoli.