Did you think that my tales of how to use up stale bread were over after the Panzanella post? Oh ho, ho – how mistaken you are, my friend! I do love me some stale bread, and there are so many things that you can do with that crusty old loaf sitting on your counter that you really MEANT to eat, but just didn’t get around to.
Let’s start by talking about Strata, in case you aren’t familiar with it. Strata is like a savoury bread pudding, where you make an custardy mixture of eggs and milk and pour this over cubes of bread and any meats or vegetables that tickle your fancy. This is baked in a moderately hot oven until it sets and the egg is fully cooked through. Stratas, like all bread puddings, run the gamut from soft, oozy and melty to firm and full bodied that you can cut with a knife and serve as squares. I like a strata that is somewhere in between.
If you aren’t already a fan of strata, here are some reasons why you should be:
- It’s a great way to use up leftover meat and vegetables (cooked or uncooked) as well as stale bread.
- Strata makes a great brunch dish, and is easy on the cook because it is even better if you assemble it the night before, leave it in the fridge until the bread sops up all the eggy wonderfulness, and then pop it in to bake in the morning as you and your guests enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee.
- There are no rules in terms of flavours and seasoning. Think of strata as a blank canvas and spin it along according to your mood. I make strata with brie and prosciutto; Mexican strata with corn, black beans, Mexican spices and jalapenos; Italian strata with oregano, basil, sun dried tomatoes and Italian sausage – the possibilities are endless.
- Did I mention that it takes no time to make, it can all be done ahead, it uses up leftovers, and it’s a great way to use up stale bread?
Bearing that in mind, I made this Ham and Zucchini Strata with Tarragon and Chives because the zucchini surplus continues and I have to keep using it up, my tarragon needed some cutting back, and my Dad gave me half a ham roast. I really enjoy ham, and I think it got a bad rap in the 1970’s with ham mousse and roasted hams with those god-awful pineapple rings and maraschino cherries. Now, this poor neglected meat has been discarded like the red headed step child of the porcine world. The thing is, although I try to be a soldier of ham defending it’s honour wherever and whenever possible, I get ridiculed. A lot. I blame this largely on Napolean Dynamite and his ham loving llama named, ahem, Tina. This means that I hear a lot of, “Hey TINA, come get some HAAAAAAAM!!!”
Ham and Zucchini Strata with Tarragon and Chives
Requires overnight (or 6-8 hours) refrigeration.
- 1 loaf day old baguette or French stick
- 2 cups cubed ham, about 8 oz
- 2 medium zucchini
- 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 3 cloves garlic
- 8 eggs
- 3/4 cup plain yoghurt
- 2 cups milk
- 200 g of Havarti cheese, or about 2 cups grated
- 2 large sprigs of tarragon
- 1 handful chives
- Salt and pepper to taste
Time to get cracking. In a medium to large bowl break all 8 of your eggs.
Dollop in the yoghurt and Dijon mustard and pour in the milk.
Give the milk and eggs a good whisk, and then finely chop the herbs. If you don’t have fresh tarragon, feel free to use about 1 – 1.5 tsp of dried.
Give it all another whisk and rasp or press in your garlic. Season this with salt and pepper to taste (about 1 tsp of kosher salt should do you well). I hate giving measurements for salt and pepper because they’re such a personal taste. If you spill NaCl on the tablecloth next to where my Dad sits (NaCl? Because he was a science teacher? Sigh. This is a tough crowd) then his food will taste too salty and you can practically watch his blood pressure start to rise. Contrast that with Mike, my forest deer, who would be much happier if I left a salt lick on the table and considers it to be more of a condiment than a seasoning. So….salt to taste.
Cut your zucchini vertically into quarters, and then slice these across into 1/4 inch chunks. Chop up the ham into 1/2 inch chunks if you’re like me and you like chunks of sweet, salty, delicious ham.
Cut up your stale bread into cubes of 1 inch or smaller.
In a well buttered casserole pan, layer in half of the bread, ham, and zucchini. Grate the cheese, and sprinkle on half of the cheese. Repeat, but reserve the cheese just for a minute.
Slowly pour the egg mixture all over the strata, being sure to go all the way around and all over the top. Let no bread remain without moisture!
Sprinkle on the other half of your cheese. This is the point at which if you are making this a day ahead you would stop. If you have used fresh bread then you can cover it with tinfoil and pop it in the oven right now. However, if you used day old bread like I do, it should go into the fridge over night. The bread acts like a sponge to soak up all that glorious egg and milk, the herbs start to permeate, and both the flavour and texture will be better at the end of it all. If you’re making this for dinner, you can do this in the morning and let it sit for 6-8 hours in the fridge to the same ends. Don’t think of this extra time as an imposition, think of it as the joy of strata because from this point forward all you have to do it pop it in the oven. You can relax, chat, check your emails, and putz around the house to your heart’s content.
Preheat your oven to 375. While the oven is preheating take your casserole dish out of the fridge to bring it down to room temperature. Strata tastes good with almost everything – except shattered glass. When the oven is hot, put it on the center shelf to bake for 50 minutes.
After 50 minutes, take the tinfoil off the top, raise the heat to 450, and let the strata cook for another 10 minutes. This will allow some of the top bread pieces to brown and give you a lovely cheesy crust up top.
When the strata is done, tent it loosely and let it sit for at least 10 minutes before cutting into it as this will let it set and firm up. It’s just like a lasagne or a pie – if you cut in too soon you will be scooping it up instead of lifting out pieces. But…Mike and I were really hungry. We just dove in, hence the jumble of strata in the picture below. Sometimes aesthetics are over-ruled by greed….
For dinner music, do you like Samson by Regina Spektor? I do.