We had our monthly potluck lunch at church a couple of weekends ago and I tried another savory dish instead of a dessert. I know, shocking, right? But I was still trying to make sure we had enough “real food” as opposed to a dessert table at the potluck. I was tempted to do pasta again since it’s so easy, especially since my level of cooking means you buy a jar of sauce, some fresh pasta plus a few other random ingredients and throw them together. (Italian grandmothers just rolled in their graves.)
But I made myself do something only just slightly more involved with this strata. Truthfully, it’s really a savory bread pudding but strata sounds more complicated so that’s what I’m going with. Like a typical bread pudding, you cut the bread into cubes, soak it in a egg-milk mixture and bake until done. For the savory element, there’s not only no sugar in this but you also brown some ground beef or pork and add some cheese. I took some liberties with the original recipe and did a combination of lean ground beef and ground pork sausage. The cheese was the Quattro fromaggio I had leftover from the Cheesy Tortellini Bake from last time.
To illustrate how infrequently I cook, when I was scouring the depths of my freezer before I started this recipe, I kept unearthing half-full bags of frozen shredded cheeses I’d used for other cooking attempts. Cheddar Cheese. Parmesan Cheese. Mozzarella Cheese. Sadly, the most “recent” one had an expiration date of July 2014. Oops. I had to chuck them all to avoid food poisoning for the church folks. How would that have gone over?? Fortunately, the Quattro fromaggio was recent and well before its expiration date. I used it all up too so I wouldn’t find it in my freezer a year from now.
I thought this turned out pretty well. I timed the bake so that it would be done right before I left for church, covered it in foil and wrapped it in a thick beach towel to keep it warm, and stowed it in my trunk while I sat in church. After the hour-long service, I was pleasantly surprised that it was still warm enough to make handling the baking dish with my bare fingers a little dicey. Savory bread pudding is best served somewhat warm and this survived the length of time from oven to table remarkably well.
From a taste perspective, it might be a bit bland for most people’s taste buds but for mine, it was fine. If you want it a little more spicy, I’d suggest using a hot sausage or adding more spice to the ground beef. I left off the dry mustard in the original recipe since I don’t like mustard and I thought it tasted good without it. It seemed like a hit with the church folks too as by the time I left, there was only 1 piece left.
9 eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups milk
9 slices bread, cubed (I used a 1-pound loaf of challah)
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese (I used quattro fromagio)
1/2 pound sliced bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 1/2 teaspoons ground mustard, optional
- In a large skillet, cook sausage over medium heat until no longer pink; drain. Add the eggs, milk, bread, cheese, bacon and mustard. Transfer to a greased shallow 3-quart baking dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight,
- Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Bake at 350 degrees F for 60-65 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. If it appears to be getting too brown but still isn't done, cover loosely with foil then remove foil for the last 5 minutes of baking. Let stand for at least 10 minutes before serving.