When author F. Scott Fitzgerald famously stated that there were no second acts in American lives, he wasn’t referring to bread. Leftover bread sitting on the cutting board in our household often rises like a phoenix from the ashes. When my wife suggested that the crusty yeasted cornbread would be perfect for strata, a layered bread pudding, I thought it was a great idea. It freed us from the drudgery of thinking about “who would eat what” for dinner and it made room on the cutting board for the rosemary bread dough that was rising on the kitchen counter. Sometimes the solution to cooking for your kids is to throw tomato sauce at the problem. I thought that the sauce and cheese in the strata would conceal any alien or objectionable ingredients. I was also prepared if my son (can I have a smoothie, because I don’t want to eat what you put on my plate) and daughter (why can’t we just have pasta) joined forces and mounted an attack. If all else failed, I could counter-attack with a calzone left over from the dinner I made the night before—my ace-in-the-hole.
I adapted a recipe from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone as a springboard to jump off. I knew neither of my children would touch a mushroom, so I substituted some chard and threw in an ear of corn for good measure. Being an indecisive kinda guy and having plenty of cheese in the fridge, I chose to put Gorgonzola on one half and goat cheese on the other.
5 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 ear of corn
1 bunch of chard
2 cups of milk
10 slices of bread (I didn’t remove the crusts)
½ cup grated mozzarella
¾ cup crumbled goat cheese or Gorgonzola
Lightly butter or oil a 9 x 12 baking dish.
Warm 1 tablespoon olive oil in skillet and add minced garlic. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check to see if it needs to be seasoned with a little salt or pepper. Transfer to a dish. Heat the remaining olive oil before cooking chard and corn (or whatever you choose to add).
Beat the eggs and milk with ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste.
Spread tomato sauce in the baking dish. Cover with a layer of bread, followed by the vegetables and cheese. Add a second layer of bread and cover it with tomato sauce, followed by the vegetables, cheese, and additional sauce. Add a third layer of bread and cover with remaining sauce and cheese. Pour the custard over all. It can be baked right away or you can cover, refrigerate, and bake several hours later.
Pre-heat oven to 375° and bake until brown and puffed, about an hour. Let cool for five minutes before serving.
With its endless variations, strata is a dish that shouldn’t become stale. It might even become a staple in your household. My son, who keeps his distance from eggs, didn’t let his remark that it was too “eggy,” deter him from getting seconds. I thought it was “eggy” in a good, French toast kind of way. I heard my daughter telling my wife that it tasted like polenta. I am continually impressed by her ability to pick out some hidden or subtle ingredient or spice. I realized the next day that since I used polenta in the bread, of course it tasted like polenta.
For the third act, I ate the remaining strata for lunch.