Tomato and Spinach Strata with Three Cheeses

Preparation info

  • Serves about

    12

    • Difficulty

      Complex

Appears in

Lighter, Quicker, Better: Cooking for the Way We Eat Today

Lighter, Quicker, Better

By Richard Sax and Marie Simmons

Published 2000

  • About

An old-fashioned egg dish, a strata is a baked, layered pudding of bread, eggs, and flavorings.

This one is flavored with a chunky tomato sauce, spinach, and mild cheeses. You can assemble this the night before a brunch and pop it in the oven in the morning. Add 5 to 10 minutes to the baking time if it is cold when it goes into the oven.

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds fresh spinach, stems trimmed, or 3 packages (10 ounces each) frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium-large onions, coarsely chopped (3 to 3½ cups)
  • Salt and Freshly ground black pepper
  • 10 to 12 ounces mushrooms, sliced inch thick (5 to 6 cups)
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 pound part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 6 cups skim milk, or as needed
  • 2 loaves day-old Italian bread, with crust, preferably whole wheat, sliced inch thick (32 to 40 thin slices)
  • 1 recipe Basic Chunky Tomato Sauce
  • ¾ pound fresh or part-skim mozzarella cheese, sliced very thin
  • tablespoons chopped thyme leaves
  • tablespoons chopped basil leaves
  • tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 5 large eggs
  • 4 large egg whites
  • cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

    Method

    • The strata can be made in a 13 × 9-inch baking dish, two 2-quart soufflé dishes, or a deep oval 13-inch gratin dish and 1 soufflé dish. Spray the baking dish or dishes with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.
    • If using fresh spinach, cook it in 2 batches. Cook each batch in a large saucepan with just the water that clings to the leaves, stirring it over medium-high heat until wilted but still bright green. Drain in a colander and cook the remaining spinach. When the spinach is cool enough to handle, gently press out excess liquid. If using frozen spinach, simply thaw and squeeze as dry as possible.
    • Heat teaspoons of the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook, tossing. After 2 or 3 minutes, lower the heat to medium and cook until the onions are softened but not browned, 5 or 6 minutes longer. Transfer the onions to a plate.
    • Add teaspoons oil to the pan and raise the heat to medium-high. Add the mushrooms, season lightly with salt and pepper, and toss until heated, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to the plate with the onions.
    • Add teaspoons oil to the pan and add the spinach. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Cook, stirring constantly, just until the spinach has dried out, about 4 minutes. Transfer the spinach to a mixing bowl. In a small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese with 2 tablespoons skim milk or slightly more if needed to bring the ricotta to a creamy consistency. Stir the ricotta into the spinach until combined. Correct seasonings.
    • In a shallow dish, soak 8 to 10 slices of bread in the milk until bread has absorbed the milk and is quite moist but not limp. (Work in batches, a few slices at a time, as you layer the ingredients as explained below. Also, note that white Italian bread is somewhat more fragile, once soaked, than whole wheat.)
    • Spoon a small amount of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a casserole. Arrange a layer of bread slices in the casserole, draining off excess milk as you do so. Put 8 to 10 more bread slices in milk to soak. Spoon the spinach mixture over the layer of bread. Top with the bread and scatter the onion-mushroom mixture over the bread. Top with half the slices of mozzarella cheese, partially covering the vegetables. Add a layer of bread and put the rest in to soak. Spoon most of the tomato sauce over the bread. Sprinkle with the herbs. Top with the remaining mozzarella. Finally, top with another layer of bread, arranging the slices neatly and spoon a thin layer of tomato sauce on top.
    • Beat the eggs and egg whites until well combined. Pour the egg mixture slowly over the casserole, poking the bread gently with a knife until the eggs have been absorbed. The amount of egg used can vary with the shape and depth of the casserole. The eggs should come up almost to the top layer of bread. Sprinkle the top with the parmesan and drizzle with the remaining teaspoons of olive oil. Let stand while you pre-heat the oven, to allow the eggs to soak into the bread.
    • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
    • Bake until the strata has set and is puffed and golden brown, usually about 50 minutes. Let stand for about 5 minutes, then cut into large wedges or squares and serve hot.