08 June 2008

Arugula and Ham Strata


Family

When my oldest son is home from college we often spend time together in the kitchen. He is an imaginative cook and likes to add a touch of his own flair and drama to the process of creating a meal. When he is in the kitchen he is driven and works quickly as if he were competing on Iron Chef. I function more on the side of slow and contemplative. At times our styles clash.

The last time he was home we ran some errands together and ended up stopping at Barnes and Noble. We browsed through the books then went to the cafe to consider our purchases over coffee. As we passed the pastry case I noticed a delicious looking slice of egg-rich Strata. My son thought it looked good too and we began to discuss what would be involved in making one ourselves for the next day's breakfast.

Collaboration

On the way home we stopped by the market to collect some ingredients. We hoped to make a Strata that would taste as good as the one in the coffee shop looked. My son suggested a combination of flavors I would not have leaned toward on my own. He selected a loaf of rustic artisanal Italian bread, some Gruyere cheese and arugula. At home I had ham in the refrigerator and fresh thyme growing in my herb garden. We settled on a collaboration of flavors and ingredients.

In my kitchen files I found a recipe for Sausage Egg Casserole that had originally been given to me by a friend at church. My friend relied on this recipe when she organized a huge community breakfast and had a group of volunteers cook from this same recipe to supply the main dish. Her recipe provided a good outline of proportion, baking time and temperature to work from. Remembering those friends in another state, and the community we were a part of when my children were young, added a note of nostalgia to the occasion as my son and I worked together to adapt the recipe and create our own version of a delicious Strata.

The Good Life

Our collaboration in the kitchen was a success that afternoon. The blending of generations, styles and ingredients along with fond memories had a certain synergy all its own. When I put the Strata in the oven the following morning it gradually filled the house with a pleasant aroma and provided a warm and nourishing breakfast as the family climbed out of bed and began a new day. My life isn't perfect but on mornings like that it is really good!


Arugula and Ham Strata
Based on a recipe from my friend Leslie in Texas

8 large eggs
1 pound ham (1 to 2 cups), chopped
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1 to 2 cups baby arugula leaves
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
6 or 7 thick slices of good Italian or french bread,
crust removed and cut into cubes (4 to 5 cups)
dash of cayenne pepper
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Spray 9x13 casserole with cooking spray. Spread ham across the bottom of the pan. Add half the bread, followed by the cheese, onions, arugula and thyme. Spread these evenly over the ham. Scatter the rest of the bread cubes across the top.

Beat the eggs slightly. Add the milk, cayenne pepper, dry mustard, salt and black pepper. Stir until combined. Pour the mixture over the contents of the casserole dish, stirring slightly to gently mix. Make sure bread cubes are in the egg mixture and the arugula leaves are mixed throughout.


Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Bake at 325 degrees for 45 - 60 minutes or until browned on top. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

Approximately 10 servings.

Note: This is really just an eggier version of Bread Pudding made with savory, rather than sweet, ingredients. It is an adaptable and forgiving recipe. It can be made out of whatever is on hand or, with some planning, can be made with a variety of ingredients. Recipes vary widely for this dish, using soft white bread or heartier loaves, more or less eggs, skim milk or even cream for the liquid - so feel free to experiment! Add whatever meat and cheese combinations appeal to you or just add vegetables, leftover or freshly sauted, instead. Then add herbs and seasonings to taste.

Enjoy!

4 comments:

Grace said...

you'd better keep an eye on your son--guys who can cook are a hot commodity! :)

this looks delicious. so delicious, in fact, that the girls lurking around your house hoping to win your son's heart may make a beeline for it instead of him. :)

Paula said...

This recipe looks heavenly, and I really like that the ingredients are different from typical strata recipes. Yum!

Lisa said...

Grace - That's what we keep telling my younger son - kitchen skills are a valuable asset! :-)

Paula - Thanks! Glad you stopped by!

Joe Horn said...

I just did a strata with Gruyere Cheese and Spicy Italian Sausage. I posted it on my blog. Come take a look if you have a chance and let me know what you think. Love the blog and the pictures!!

http://cookingquest.wordpress.com/2008/07/27/strata-with-spicy-italian-gruyere/

Thanks,

Joe