When I lived with a host family in Paris, day-old baguettes were deeply scorned. If we didn't get through a whole one in a day, the remnants were tossed, or, worse, relegated to the oblivion of the freezer, never to be seen again.
But a strata—essentially a savory French toast—is the best use I know for day-old bread. (If strata were gold, I would have been a very rich college junior living in that apartment.) And now that I've been charmed by them, I make strata from my own bread, even when it's not technically leftover.
You can buy a baguette or some other decent loaf, slice it, and leave it out to achieve maximum staleness. The drier your bread, the more of the cheesy, sage-y goodness it will absorb from the custard. If you actually do have extra bread from last week's meal, by all means, use that. Like cereal before it, strata really does make the most of an old humble staple.
Cheese might be humble too, but not the nutty, mild Gruyere I use here, which enriches and enlivens the dish. Spinach introduces green into the carb-fest, but the long baking time makes it melt in your mouth. Last but not least, sage adds a woodsy, wintry flavor, reminding us of the strata's truest character traits: cozy and comforting.
Shopping List: 1/2 baguette (pro-rated), $1.00; 3 eggs, $0.50; 2 1/2 cups milk, $1.00; 2 tablespoons fresh sage, $1.00; 1.5 ounces baby spinach, $0.50; 1 ounce Parmesan, $1.00; 3 ounces gruyere, $2.50
About the authors: Phoebe and Cara are the co-founders of Big Girls, Small Kitchen, a food and cooking website for twenty-something cooks looking for user-friendly, affordable ways to navigate their kitchens. They have a heated, decade-long rivalry about whose Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie is the best. Their book, Big Girls, Small Kitchen, will be published in the spring of 2011 by William Morrow. Visit their blog here.
- 1/2 baguette (to yield about 6 cups of torn bread)
- 1 tablespoon softened butter, plus 3 tablespoons melted butter
- 3 eggs
- 2 1/2 cups milk
- 2 tablespoons fresh sage, torn
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
- 1 1/2 ounces baby spinach (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 3 ounces Gruyere (about 1 1/2 cups, grated)
- 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated
Cut the bread into slices about ¾-inch thick. Set on the counter for several hours to dry out, or toast the bread in a 400°F oven for about 5 minutes. Tear each slice into several pieces. You should have about 6 cups.
Grease an 8-inch by 9-inch casserole dish with 1 tablespoon softened butter.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until frothy. Whisk in milk, sage, salt, pepper, melted butter, and minced garlic until homogenous.
Add the torn bread to the custard, mixing to make sure every piece absorbs some liquid. Stir in spinach and Gruyere. Pour the bread-custard-spinach mixture into prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle with Parmesan and top with more freshly ground pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit for 1 hour on the counter, or several hours in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 375°F about 20 minutes before you’re ready to bake the strata.
Bake until the top is browned and slightly puffed and the strata is cooked through, about 45 minutes. Let rest a few minutes before serving warm.