Monday, 25 August 2014

Swiss Chard Strata

An awful lot of strata recipes get a bit too precise. It's true that this is a rather rich and impressive dish, but really, it's the perfect vehicle for using up odds and ends.

Don't have leeks? Use shallots or onions. Don't have Swiss chard? Use spinach or kale. Cheese? Use whatever seems appropriate and/or you have on hand. I used the dog end of a roll of soft chevre that was alarming me with how long it had been living in my fridge (and which I thought was particularly good here), and bulked it out with my good old stand-by old Cheddar. Finish up that last half-litre of milk that really has to be used today, some bread that got a bit stale, and there you go. (Eggs, I hope, are always on hand! It's urgent panic shopping time for me if they are not.)

6 to 8 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Swiss Chard Strata

3 to 4 cloves of garlic
3 large leeks
1 bunch Swiss chard (6 cups chopped)
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon rubbed basil, oregano, or savory
1 to 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
300 grams (10 ounces) cheese
5 large eggs
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon butter
2/3 to 3/4 of a 450 gram (1 pound) loaf of bread, preferably rather stale
1/4 cup finely grated bread crumbs (optional)
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Peel and mince the garlic. Trim, wash, and chop the leeks. Give them another rinse and drain them well. Wash the Swiss chard. Separate the leaves from the stems of the Swiss chard, and chop them finely. If you wish to use the stems, chop them finely as well - I find them a bit too prominent and use about half of them.

Heat the oil in a large skillet, and cook the leeks and chard stems gently until softened and considerably reduced in volume; about 5 minutes. Add the seasonings during this process. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so, then add the Swiss chard leaves. Stir constantly until they are well wilted down, then turn off the heat and set the pan aside.

Grate, crumble, or cut in small cubes the cheese, depending on the type. Beat the eggs and whisk in the milk. 

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 2 1/2 to 3 quart shallow baking pan (3 litre), and line the bottom with slices of the bread, cut into quarters or torn into large pieces. Spread about 1/3 of the vegetable mixture evenly over the pieces of bread, then top with about 1/3 of the cheese also evenly distributed. Add another layer of bread, and continue in the same way, finishing with a final layer of bread. Pour the eggs and milk evenly over the mixture and let it sit for 5 minutes or so to be sure the bread has soaked up all the liquid. Press the top down gently for a minute or two if it seems to need assistance.

Sprinkle the top with the Parmesan and bread crumbs mixed together - this is not strictly necessary, but gives the top a nice texture. Bake at 350°F. for about 1 hour, until puffed and nicely browned around the edges. Let the strata rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Last year at this time I made Broccoli & Tortellini Salad.

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