Monday, August 8, 2011

Bread, Eggs, Cheese...Oh My!

Strata with Balsamic Caramelized Onions,
Tomatoes, and Spinach

One of the many perks of working at The Steeping Room is the constant flow of inspiration from our talented and creative chefs.  The menu is anything but standard, and one of the things I love best about working there is being able to introduce people to things they would never think of trying otherwise, whether it be an unusual ingredient or an unexpected combination of ingredients or flavors.  

The muse for today's recipe is one such thing: our seasonal strata. In the menu, it is described as a "quiche-like baked egg delight," and if a guest still looks confused, I'll liken it to a "savory bread pudding" or "casserole."  Strata (which means "layers" in Latin) is traditionally layers of rustic bread baked with eggs, milk, and shredded cheese.  Our current version features bacon, arugula, roasted red peppers, and a combination of cheddar and gruyere.  Sounds delicious, right?  

But to a canary like me, painfully delicious would be more like it.  Wheat bread, heavy cream, cheese... three strikes and I'm out.

One of my favorite gifts

Almost too beautiful to eat...

However, rather than resign myself to a life without strata, I took it upon myself to compose one that was gluten-free and dairy-free and still delicious.  And when my friend, Mary Ann, gave me a dozen beautiful eggs from her chickens on my birthday and I spied some tantalizing heirloom cherry tomatoes at the farmer's market, I seized the moment to use these gorgeous ingredients to answer my own challenge.

And this was the result.

Gluten-Free Strata with Balsamic Caramelized Onions, 
Spinach, and Tomatoes (GF, DF, rSF, SF)

6-8 slices GFDF bread                           
1/2 large onion, sliced (~1 c)
4 tablespoons oil for sauteing
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar  
6 tablespoons warm stock for deglazing            
3 cloves garlic, sliced
3/4 c halved cherry tomatoes
1 1/2 c fresh spinach leaves 
1 tablespoon vegan butter or oil                   
1/2 c fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
1 c Daiya mozzarella                          
6 large eggs
2 1/2 c unsweetened non-dairy milk  
1 tablespoon dried oregano

1.  Toast slices of bread and then tear into smaller pieces.  Traditionally strata was a way to use stale leftover bread, and toasting can help approximate that.  For this recipe I used a combination of Udi's Multigrain and Kinnikinick Sunflower Flax Rice bread.
2.  Begin to warm 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat in a medium to large thick-bottomed pan.  Add onions and stir to coat with oil.  The key to caramelizing is allowing the onions to gradually release their natural sugars that will result in the deep brown color you're looking for.  So low and slow is a good rule of thumb, stirring occasionally.  If necessary, reduce temperature and/or add a touch more oil to prevent burning or sticking.
3.  After cooking the onions for approximately 10-15 minutes they should be a nice, mellow brown and starting to "melt" together.   Make a small mound of the onions and pour balsamic vinegar over it.  Stir to coat.
4.  Once vinegar had reduced and incorporated into the onions, add 4 tablespoons warm stock (or water) one tablespoon at a time to deglaze the pan.
5.  Add sliced garlic and 2 more tablespoons oil.  Saute for 1-2 minutes.
6.  Add cherry tomatoes and saute for 1-2 minutes.
7.  Add some of the fresh basil and all of the spinach.  Saute for 1 minute before adding remaining 2 tablespoons warm stock/water to deglaze the pan one more time to bring all the flavors together.  Turn off heat and remove from heat source.
8.  Use 1 tablespoon vegan butter or oil to grease your baking pan/dish.
9.  Layer approximately 1/2 of the bread pieces on the bottom.
10. Spread most of the sauteed vegetables, 2/3 c Daiya mozzarella, and remainder of fresh basil over bread.
11.  Use remaining bread to create the "crust" on the sides and on top.  Spread remaining vegetables and Daiya cheese on top.
12.  Beat eggs, gradually adding unsweetened non-dairy milk.  I prefer to use almond or coconut, but soy will work as well.  Add dried oregano.
13.  Pour egg-milk mixture over layers of bread, vegetables, and "cheese."  Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to allow the bread to soak up the egg/milk mixture.  You can even leave it overnight if you'd like to prep this a day in advance.
14.  When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove from oven and allow strata to rest for at least 20 minutes before serving.
15.  Makes 4-8 servings.

The ingredients

Bright flavors

The color of happy hens

Just out of the oven

Strata should be slightly crisp on the edges, gooey on top, and soft and fluffy inside.  I'm partial to the edges (especially if there's a little burnt cheese), so baking it in a circular dish is perfect for me so I can  get all three textures in one piece.  While strata is commonly served during breakfast, it can be eaten at any meal - lunch, dinner, midnight snack.  And it's also flexible in terms of what ingredients you use.  Start with bread, eggs, and "cheese," and from there the sky's the limit.

So next time you're at a restaurant or at a party and you see something that's delicious but well outside the parameters of your dietary constraints, try not to get frustrated or sad.  Instead, be inspired, be motivated, and be creative.  Things worth achieving are rarely done so with ease - so embrace the challenge.  And with that embrace, accept the potential for success.

1 comment:

  1. I'm reposting my book of face comment here because I made myself laugh by writing it:

    Eat it! Eat it! Your hunger wants to be defeated! Show them how funky and strong is your appetite. It doesn't matter if you use your left hand or right. Just eat it!

    And now back to a semi-normal comment...
    I definitely agree with the approach of taking on a creative challenge when it comes to creating dishes or reworking them to make them work for your needs. I find it very rewarding when I've made a recipe my own and put a personal stamp on it. When you create something with love people really do taste it in your cooking.



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