Hello, welcome, and meet the casserole (or, strata). And no, we’re not talking grandma’s Thanksgiving green beans. We’re talking a carby, eggy, cheesy and supremely satisfying breakfast: a perfect one-dish wonder.
There are a couple reasons we love strata, especially during the holiday season. First, you can assemble it the night before and pop it in the oven whenever you need. In other words, less flipping pancakes more relaxing over a latte with friends. Next, get creative with ingredients. In the mood to go Spanish? Throw in some cooked chorizo and diced onions. Feeling more into veggies? Sauté a pile of whatever you have on hand with a handful of fresh herbs. And last but not least, the strata delivers a complete meal, all in one dish.
The term casserole refers both to the final dish as well as the cooking vessel itself. It’s a cooking method that’s been around for quite a long time. Traditionally, the casserole features multiple ingredients layered or mixed together before cooking. Lasagna, chicken pot pie, oven baked mac and cheese, all casseroles.
At its core, the breakfast strata is a mix of cubed bread (stale is better), eggs, and milk. A good ratio to follow is two parts bread, 1 part egg, and 1 part milk. We’re looking for the egg-milk mixture to be completely absorbed by the bread cubes, which creates that custard-like texture. Better to err on the side of more liquid than less. From there, you can really do whatever you want, if you follow these simple tips:
- Butter or oil the sides of your cooking dish so the mixture doesn’t stick.
- Adjust cooking times based on the size of your cooking dish; your meal will cook quicker in a more shallow dish.
- Don’t hold back on seasoning the egg-milk mixture. You need a good dose of salt and pepper, and then build up from there. Fresh herbs, some spices or your favorite condiment all build flavor.
- Cheese makes a strata extra delicious, but you don’t need it.
- Experiment with any type of bread, from sourdough to baguette, even gluten-free.
- Cook your add-ins first, whether it’s sausage, bacon, or ham, or a medley of fresh vegetables.
- Let it sit. Even if you assemble the morning-of, try to let your strata hang out for an hour or so on the counter before it hits the oven. If it sat overnight in the fridge, remove it 30–60 minutes before cooking so it comes closer to room temp.
Just like quiches and bread buddings, the breakfast strata has endless variations, but this is our fave, with a Southern spin:
Sausage and grits
1 1/2 pounds smoked sausage, cut into quarter moons
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups uncooked quick-cooking grits
2 (8-oz.) blocks sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
Vegetable cooking spray
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 13” x 9” baking dish and set aside.
Brown sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir for 2 minutes then add thyme. Saute sausage and thyme for 7 to 9 minutes or until cooked.
Bring salt and 4 1/2 cups water to a boil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over high heat. Whisk in grits and reduce heat to medium heat. Whisk continuously without a lid for 5 minutes or until thickened. Add milk and 1tbsp butter to grits and whisk until combined and grits become creamy.
Remove grits from heat. Add cheese, stirring until completely melted. Add more butter or milk if needed. When cooled down slightly, stir in next 4 ingredients. Stir in sausage and drippings. Spoon mixture into baking dish. Bake at 350° for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until golden and cooked through. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
*Dish may be prepared up to four days in advance—just keep in the fridge, and let it come back to room temp before you bake on the day of.
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