August 11, 2009
The strata at Rustic Bakery brings out the little pest in me. My chest manages to thunder down on a few bags of neatly primped granola as I lean up on the counter and catch a peek into kitchen. "Are we there yet?" is replaced by "Is the strata ready yet?"
And then followed by: "well, when will it be done?"
And then: "It's ok, I can eat it hot. Not really, it's ok"
"Still five more minutes?"
I can't wait longer. I can't. I need bready pudding, savory meats, melty cheese strings, eggs colonel custarded up. I need it. My belly is nowhere near empty. In fact it is quite full of a freshly baked and flaked ham and cheese croissiant that I so gingerly helped myself to 5 minutes prior. Oh was it delicious! But that was 5 minutes ago and now I am perturbed as I wait for my Strata...
- You must try some [Rustic bakery: Order the Ham and Cheese Croissant and the Strata - ignore the frivolous wrapping]
Strata reminds me of a wartime food. Really, it does. Take some old dry biscuits, a bit of salted/cured ham, sneak some eggs from the coup and some milk from the utter, and there you have it: Brunch!
So my friend Jacky of Chesblade/Omnieater, had a roaring birthday brunch atop a hillside, overlooking the haight-ashbury. Jacky's dearest man-of-many-wonders, Willie, took care for the spectacular cake (almond with buttercream and peaches) and homebrewed beer (fashioned with "jacky" labels) .
I, of course, tasked myself with feeding a small army with warm savory goodness. (I was convinced that, in the height on summer, not a single person would remember to bring a non-fruit bearing dish. My suspicions were dead on. Indeed. Win!)
Hence, I whipped up two stratas for the occasion:
1. A classic ham, leek, and swiss
2. A chorizo, queso fresco, and onion (Look at me, Martha a la Mexico!!!!)
I used the cook's illustrated recipe - perfect every time.
The framework is such:
The night before *Cut up an 8 oz loaf of Acme Bread (I used a sour Loaf) into 1 inch slices (~8-10 slices).*Toast at 225F 40 minutes. * Lather generously with butter when it comes out hard and dry. *Cover the bottom of a 9x13 dish with slices. *Sprinkle on as much cubed ham, cheese, sauteed leeks in gobs of butter, and salt and pepper as you see fit. * Put another round of bread slices down and another round of fixings - hold the cheese. *In a separate bowl, beat 6 eggs, 1 1/3 c whole milk, and 2/3 cup creme fraiche and pour on top of bread mixture.*Cover bread mixture with plastic wrap. *Take a flat thing, like a large plate, that is just smaller than the pan and place it on top of the plastic wrap to weigh down strata. *Place the strata and plate in the fridge over night. Add extra weight on top of the plate using old cookbooks you don't read - like celebrity chef books that are crummy.
The next day *Pull the strata out of the fridge at least 1.5 hours before eating and preheat your oven to 350F.* Uncover the strata and allow it to come to room temp for 20 minutes and then sprinkle it excessively with cheese! *Bake for 55-60 minutes.
To eat *Use a large wooden spoon as to not burn you lips when you cut into the beautiful casserol and pile drive it into our mouth.
For the Mexican version, saute chorizo - at 8 ounces in a pan and drain the drippings befor eusing. Use a soft Mexican cheese - queso fresco for its bouyancy and fresh flavor (throw caution to the wind and forget about listeriosis says Jeffrey Steingarten).