One of the best ways to use up a half-loaf or more of bread you know you’re not going to finish otherwise is to make a strata, or savory bread pudding.
I made my first strata from a recipe in Diana Shaw’s Essential Vegetarian Cookbook–a cookbook that I use only rarely, but sometimes consult for ideas on basic rules for basic dishes.
After having made several not-so-good, pretty dry stratas, I heard or read a tidbit not in that recipe’s directions that solved that whole choking issue–you have to let a strata soak in its egg custard mixture for several hours before you bake it–ideally all afternoon or even all night.
Today’s strata is made with six and a half somewhat thick slices of Mr. Smith’s whole wheat oat bread. While purchasing the loaf seemed a good idea at the time, it was kind of disappointing right on the heels of my own whole wheat oat loaves made with dark beer and molasses.
Mr. Smith’s uses honey and milk, which leaves it not particularly flavorful–it’s missing that depth and tang that beer and molasses adds–and those flavors really help to make what ends up being a pretty heavy bread worthwhile eating.
But all is not lost–the bread, sliced and dried out a little in the oven, then layered with roasted summer veggies and cheese, then soaked in a beaten egg-and-milk mixture will make a delicious, hearty supper.
I buttered a casserole dish (actually an oven-safe mixing bowl) and laid therein a couple slices of the bread to cover the bottom (breaking up another slice to cover the rest of the somewhat rounded bottom). The cookbook recipe calls for removing the crusts–I don’t think this is necessary unless the crust on your loaf is very hard.
After beating together nine eggs and about 1 3/4 cups milk with some herbs, dried minced onion and garlic powder, I poured enough of the egg mixture in to come to the top of the first layer of bread slices.
On top of those bread slices soaking in egg mixture, I layered a little of my thawed roasted summer veggie mixture, a few thin-sliced leek rings, and a sprinkling of shredded cheddar. Then came a second layer of bread slices topped with egg mixture, veggies, and cheese.
The egg mixture only comes up just to the top of the bread slices–they’re not swimming it in. Since I have a little egg mix left over, if I notice the bread is soaking up too much of what I originally added, I’ll pour a little more in.
The dish will now sit and soak for the afternoon until we get close to dinnertime, when it’ll go into a 350-degree oven until it cooks through, puffs up, and browns a little on top–maybe 45 minutes or so.
Strata is a nice leftover-using dish because you can pretty much add anything to it–like a quiche, but without having to make or buy a crust, and with the added benefit of using up some leftover bread.
It also works better than the sweet bread puddings, I think, in using up more densely grainy breads, and is a little more down-home and hearty than a souffle.
Just remember to give it plenty of time to soak!
Local ingredients: eggs, milk, veggies (leeks, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, summer squash).