When I left home I copied all of my favorite recipes from my mother’s recipe box. Strada is one of those easy to make and infinitely flexible dishes that can be adapted to breakfast, brunch, lunch, potluck, or dinner. One of Jan’s friends invited us to a “bring a dish” New Year’s party, so I decided to make a strada.
Note: Cheese is a common ingredient included in many strada, but it is not a defining ingredient. I chose not to add it to this one, because I do not know the dietary restrictions of my diners.
There is some confusion about the name. Even though they are clearly the same dish, some call it a strada—Italian for road—and others called it a strata—Italian for layer. All of the recipes using the term strada appear to be family recipes, handed down through the generations.
It is unclear which way the linguistic drifted. Was it originally strada—food for the road—because it is commonly used in potlucks? Or did it start out strata—when some chef layered the ingredients? It could also be that if you layer the ingredients it is a strata and if you mix it all together it is a strada. Whichever way it tastes just as good.
One of my big objections to casseroles is that, so many cooks believe that they are a quick and easy dish to make. You chop things up, dump them in a dish, pop it in the oven and walk away. This method generally produces a dish that is bland, soggy and unappealing. The most that can be said for this technique is that the results are, usually, “edible.”
To make more a more than “edible” dish, you must take the time to build up the flavors. Caramelize the bread, meat, and vegetables. These steps also evaporate the moisture that the vegetables would release that would make your casserole soggy.
Finally, you need to give the bread time to soak up the egg mixture. If you just pop the casserole strait into the oven after mixing, you will end up with chunks of dry bread in an egg custard. If you give the dish time to meld, you will have soft egg-y bits of bread with mixed with bits of savory meat and veggies. It is heaven in your mouth.
Karl’s Chicken Sausage Dinner Strada (Strata)
1 loaf Filone bread
3 smoked chardonnay chicken sausages (9 oz.)
2 Tbs. butter
1 small yellow onion, ¼ inch dice (about ¾ cup)
1 tsp. Kosher salt, separate uses
1 stalk celery, ¼ inch dice (about ¾ cup)
1 leek, halved and sliced finely (about ¾ cup)
1 tsp. parsley, dried
½ tsp. chervil, dried
½ tsp. thyme, dried
½ tsp. black pepper
8 large eggs
2 cups Strauss whole milk
½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup red bell pepper, finely diced
Note: You can assemble this dish right before you stick it in the oven, but it is better if you make it the evening before and let the egg/milk mixture completely soak into the bread.
Cut the bread into ¾ inch cubes and spread them onto a large baking tray.
Pam a 9 x 13 inch pan and spread the bread cubes out onto a single layer.
Put the tray on the middle rack and broil for 10 to 15 minutes. Cool and reserve.
Tip: Stir the bread cubes half way through and keep a close eye on them at the end of broiling. The idea is to toast them, not burn them.
Slice the chicken sausage into ¼ inch coins.
Melt the butter in a sauté pan over a medium high heat. When the butter stops foaming, fry the chicken sausages until well caramelized.
Transfer the sausage to a large mixing bowl.
Without cleaning the pan, sauté the onions and celery with half a teaspoon of salt until the onions are well caramelized, about 15 minutes.
Add the leeks and continue sautéing for five more minutes, until the leeks are soft.
Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pan and add the garlic to the whole in the center.
Sprinkle the herbs and pepper over the vegetables around the edges of the pan.
Sauté the garlic for one minute, until fragrant, and then mix the garlic and herbs into the vegetables.
Transfer the vegetables to the bowl with the chicken sausage.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and Worcestershire sauce.
Tip: The Worcestershire sauce give the dish some umami flavor. You do not want to add so much that you taste the sauce, but you would miss it if you left it out.
Pour the egg/milk mixture over the ingredients in the bowl.
Mix the ingredients together and scoop put one cup, mostly solids.
Tip: When you mix in the bread and pour it all into the casserole, the “good bits” always seem to sink to the bottom. I reserve some of the solids to put on top, after I transfer the egg/bread mixture to the baking dish.
Add the dry bread to the mixture in the large bowl and mix them in.
Tip: I prefer to leave the mixture in the bowl for 15 minutes, mixing it every few minutes. This allows the bread to evenly soak up the eggs and milk. If you simply mix in the bread and pour it into the casserole, the bread on top sill have dry centers and the bread on the bottom will come out soggy.
Spray the bottom and sides of your casserole with Pam and pour in the bread mixture.
Tip: Make sure you choose a dish large enough to hold all of your ingredients. You do not want your casserole to be over full.
Smooth out the mixture in to casserole and spread the reserved solids over the top. Press them down with a spatula.
Scatter the red pepper evenly over the top.
Cover the casserole and refrigerate for at least four hours.
Tip: The rest is to give the egg/milk mixture time to soak into the bread. You can make the dish up to this point the night before and refrigerate, tightly covered. An hour before serving, you just pop it in the oven and in 40 minutes you have a spectacular meal with apparently no effort.
Preheat the oven to 350º F.
Bake the strada on the middle rack for 30 minutes and then switch the burner to broil and increase the temperature.
Tip: Depending on your oven you may need to rotate your pan half way through the broiling. Keep a close eye on your dish toward the end, so that you do not burn the top.
Broil the strada until the top is spotty brown.