Strata, an old-fashioned layered bread dish, is making a comeback. It’s a great way to feed a crowd on a busy holiday morning. This recipe has been adapted from The New York Times version of the Savory Strata served at the Café Beaujolais in Mendocino, California. Challah bread makes it extra special, but you can use any good white or whole-wheat bread as well. Serve cut into squares.
3-2/3 cups milk
5 extra-large or jumbo eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch scallions, or 2 leeks (white and light-green parts thinly sliced)
12 to 16 large shiitake mushroom caps, sliced (the stems are too tough to use)
2-1/2 cups ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling on top
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1-1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
18 slices challah bread (preferably a day old)
8 ounces sharp white-cheddar cheese, grated
Whisk together the milk, eggs, salt, tabasco, and nutmeg. Set aside.
Heat oil in a large skillet. Add the scallions and sliced mushroom caps and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 10 minutes, until the mushrooms begin to shrink and the scallions soften. Sprinkle with salt and remove from the heat.
In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmesan, and seasonings. Fold in the sautéed scallions and mushroom caps.
Butter a 13×9-inch glass baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the softened butter. Fit about 6 slices of bread into the pan. Spread with half the ricotta mixture, smoothing it out with a spoon. Cover with a second layer of bread, gently pressing it into the layer below. Don’t worry about gaps; the bread will swell to fit them. Cover this with the remaining ricotta mixture, and add the remaining bread slices. Spread the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter gently over the top layer of the bread.
Pour the egg mixture slowly over the top layer. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.To bake and serve: Preheat oven to 350° F. Remove the plastic wrap from the strata, sprinkle with the cheddar cheese, and place the dish in a larger shallow roasting pan in the oven.
Carefully pour lukewarm water into the roasting pan so it comes halfway up the sides of the strata pan. Bake for 1 hour. Open the oven and sprinkle on additional Parmesan cheese, to taste. Bake for an additional 20 minutes, or until puffy and brown, and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool for 20 minutes, cut into squares, and serve.