A Smart, Quick-Cooking Strata for Dinner (and Cleaning Out Your Fridge)

Celebrated for their economy and comfort, bread-based casseroles shine at the holidays — the Easter brunches, the Thanksgiving dinners, the Christmas breakfasts. But, often laden with cream and cheese, they tend be heavy, inducing instant food comas or surreptitious pant unbuttoning.

But they don’t have to be so rich, and they shouldn’t be relegated to special occasions. Strata, the layered bread casserole, is particularly well suited for everyday cooking, calling for refrigerator staples and whatever vegetables and meat you have on hand, like kale or chard and a bit of bacon. An assembled strata will often spend the night in the fridge before baking, but it can be cooked immediately, too, and it comes out as well in large vessels as in small ones—a 10-inch cast iron skillet, for instance, will hold enough eggs, milk (rather than cream), and bread to comfortably feed four people.

Photo by Alexandra Stafford

This recipe comes from America’s Test Kitchen’s Cook it in Cast Iron and employs an unconventional method for strata, beginning on the stovetop and finishing in the oven. The advantage of this technique is twofold. First, you can prep as you go: As the bacon crisps, chop the onion; as the onion softens, cube the bread; as the bread toasts, whisk the eggs and milk. Second, by stirring the custard into a warm skillet (as opposed to a room-temperature baking dish), the strata cooks faster—in just about 15 minutes (as opposed to nearly an hour), and it will puff and set in the oven, emerging with an almost soufflé-like texture.

Photo by Alexandra Stafford

The small amount of bacon goes a long way here, imparting a smoky flavor throughout, but this certainly can be made vegetarian by using olive oil in its place. And while the original recipe doesn't call for it, heaps of coarsely chopped greens folded into the custard-and-bread mixture make this strata a one-pot wonder.

Alexandra Stafford is a writer, photographer, and occasional stationery designer based in upstate New York, where she is writing a cookbook. You can read more of her work on her blog.

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I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.