Late summer is upon us. The garden is needy, and the weather, until two days ago, had not been willing to do any of the obligatory watering for me. I mostly let the tomatoes go. They were on their...
Yesterday was a momentous day. It was all about dealing with loose odds and ends that have followed me around, if only in my mind, for some time now.
I'm no procrastinator. In my world, which exists only in my head by the way, ten minutes early is right on time (making it impossible for me to attain fashionably late status at anything), a deadline is something I never actually make it to because I finished a week in advance, and I make it a point to return phone calls immediately.
However, I am also a multi-tasker, and I like to test my own limits in terms of how many projects I can keep going at once. Over time, little details fall by the wayside until I reach a critical point when I can turn a blind eye no longer.
One of those was my garden. Looking great, by the way. It's a thrill to actually see things thriving. Even more of a thrill to pick things from it and then eat them, as opposed to last summer when I got to plant everything and the insects got to eat it all. But, with improved soil comes more weeds. They like good soil just as much as fruits and veggies.
It was easy to overlook the fact that weeds were slowly consuming my garden because you couldn't really see the weeds beneath the huge chard leaves and thriving lettuces, but I knew they were there. Yesterday was their day of reckoning.
And then there was the abominable fact that I had yet to make a batch of strawberry jam and strawberry season is almost over in Tennessee. It's hard to believe that. Fortunately, my copy of Food In Jars arrived and jolted me out of my late spring stupor, and I made a big batch of lovely, ruby red strawberry jam. One spoonful made me realize I had done the right thing.
Another small thing I mustered in between stirring a viciously foaming pot of jam and wrestling with weeds was to use the remainder of a stale loaf of bread that had been glaring at me for a few days. And homemade bread does that. It glares. It weighs on the conscience. It cries out to be used to the last crumb. Who am I to deny it?
But really, when you make bread, especially slow-ferment sourdough, you can't just throw away stale bread. It goes against some kind of innate baker's sense of justice and ethics.
Usually, I turn stale bread into croutons or bread crumbs. We can always use those, and it's easy enough to do. I enjoy bread pudding, but I rarely make it, especially once the weather turns warmer. I do, however, see some logic to strata.
Strata, for the unfamiliar, is dish composed of various savory components, the most notable of which are bread and eggs. We've been in high cotton around here lately when it comes to eggs. Our chickens have started laying in a serious way, and while a family of five might not have trouble demolishing all the eggs our chickens produce, it's just the two of us, and we aren't eggs-for-breakfast people.
So, hoping to make the best of the garden, the chickens, and my sourdough bread, I put this little ditty together. And it is a ditty. A song. A lark. Very easy to assemble and friendly to the harried. You can compose this dish ahead of time, refrigerate it, and bake it when you need it. It also serves as a breakfast dish or, as we like it, a supper dish. Leftovers are lunch.
Substitutions are welcome here. I used chard, kale, and garlic scapes because that's what I had, but any cooking green would be great here--mustard, collards, spinach. You can also use plain old garlic, green garlic, scallions, or shallots. Throw in whatever herbs and spices your family likes. Be sure to season it well--strata absorbs flavor.
In a large sauté pan, warm over medium heat:
3 tablespoons olive oil
Add and sauté until softened and beginning to brown:
1 large onion
Add and sauté until fragrant, about one minute:
5 garlic scapes, chopped, or 3 garlic cloves, minced
Add and sauté until wilted, about 5 to 7 minutes:
4 loosely packed cups shredded greens, tough stalks removed
Remove from the heat, season to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine:
1 pound stale bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (the better the bread, the better the strata)
1 cup heavy cream or half and half
2 tablespoons minced herbs of choice (I used oregano and thyme)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Press the bread cubes into the cream and egg mixture to get the bread to absorb the liquid.
Spread the greens in the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking pan. Lay over top of the greens:
6 slices prosciutto
Sprinkle evenly over the top of the prosciutto:
1 cup (not packed) grated cheese of choice (I took this opportunity to use up remnants, and I used the large holes on my grater)
Pour the cream and egg soaked bread cubes over the cheese and spread them evenly in the dish. Sprinkle over the bread crumbs:
1 cup grated cheese of choice
Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably longer. This is what makes this dish so wonderful. You can make it the night before a big brunch and just pop it in the oven, or you can make it in the morning before work, and pop it in the oven when you get home.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Remove the baking dish from the refrigerator and place in the preheated oven. Bake until the cheese on top is golden brown and the whole dish is bubbling appealingly, about 20 to 30 minutes. Serve with a salad.