Christmas Brunch Strata is big on holiday style, but easy to make

This hearty egg strata showcases the color of the Christmas season. David Samson / The Forum

The holiday season is upon us.

As our days fill up with parties, concerts, shopping and visitors, I like to keep a few go-to recipes in my cooking arsenal that are easy to make but big on holiday style. This week’s Christmas Brunch Strata is at the top of that list — it’s beautiful, delicious and most of the prep can be done a day in advance, leaving you free to enjoy the party with your guests.

A strata is similar to a quiche or frittata and is really just a fancy name for an egg bake or egg casserole. This hearty breakfast specialty is typically made with pieces of crusty, or even stale, bread combined with a custard mixture of eggs, milk and cheese.

Bread is the base of this dish, and any rustic, crusty loaf will work. For this recipe, I keep the crust on and slice the bread into cubes about 1 ½ to 2 inches in size. This recipe uses about half a loaf, which yields approximately five to six cups of bread cubes, and I’ll cut and freeze the rest for later use.

I love the versatility of a strata, as you can customize the flavor with any assortment of add-in ingredients. For this occasion, I’ve chosen ingredients to showcase the traditional red and green colors of the Christmas season, like cherry tomatoes and fresh spinach. A combination of bacon and breakfast sausage gives the dish a savory punch, which is rounded out by a healthy dose of onions and mushrooms.

While some strata dishes are layered, hence the name, I prefer to keep things simple by tossing all the ingredients together, just like a bread pudding. I cook the bacon and sausage together, transfer them to a plate, and then cook the vegetables in the same pan, using the fat drippings as the oil. Next, in a large bowl, I beat together eight large eggs with whole milk, Dijon mustard, hot sauce and seasonings until well combined, then gently stir in the bread cubes, cheese, meats and vegetables.

The mixture is then poured into a large, greased baking dish. Once the strata is prepared, it goes into the refrigerator for at least two hours to set up before baking, and overnight is even better. This step ensures that all the liquids are absorbed into the bread and keeps you free to focus on other activities until ready to bake.

The strata will puff up impressively as it bakes and then fall slightly after coming out of the oven. I let the strata rest for at least five minutes before slicing, which gives it time to firm up for serving. Elegant, simple and filled with flavor, this festive Christmas Brunch Strata is sure to be a hit at your holiday table.

“Home With the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.

Christmas Brunch Strata

Serves: 6 to 8

6 bacon slices, diced into 1-inch pieces

1/2 pound breakfast sausage, ground or removed from casings and crumbled

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

1 cup baby button mushrooms, quartered

1 pint cherry tomatoes, whole

4 cups fresh spinach

8 large eggs

2½ cups whole milk

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon hot sauce (like Tabasco or Sriracha)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

5 to 6 cups good crusty bread, cubed (about 1½ inches in size)

Grease a large (9-by-13) baking dish with butter or cooking spray; set aside.

Heat a large nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Add the diced bacon and ground or crumbled sausage. Cook until bacon is crisp and sausage turns golden brown, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer meat to a plate lined with paper towel.

Keep the fat in the pan and add the onion. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, then add the chopped mushrooms. Continue cooking over medium heat until onions are soft and translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and spinach and cook until the spinach wilts, about 2 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, add the eggs, milk, mustard, hot sauce, salt and pepper. Use a whisk or electric mixer to beat until well-combined. Add the cheese, bread cubes, bacon, sausage and vegetables, and gently toss until fully incorporated. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight, for best results.

When ready to bake, remove strata from the refrigerator and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake until the strata puffs up, the center is firm, and the top is evenly golden brown, about 60 to 70 minutes. Oven temperatures vary, so if the top appears to be browning too quickly, cover it lightly with foil and continue baking until the strata is firm and cooked through.

Remove from oven and let rest for about 5 minutes before serving. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 2 days.

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