Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Asparagus, Bacon, Roasted Pepper, and Sausage Strata

Slice of Strata on Plate
"Loaded" Strata

Recipe by Robin

Ten or more years ago I was served strata at an Easter brunch. It was so beautiful and yummy that I’ve wanted to make one ever since. The process of preparing all of the strata layers, assembling them in order, and pouring the egg mixture in was appealing. But the idea of refrigerating it for 10 hours to allow the bread to soak up the eggs and milk—that means planning—seemed daunting. But spring inspires new activities, especially when I see tender young asparagus on sale. I might get used to eating brunch at home weekends instead of going out…maybe.

Strata in Pan Cut Lengthwise
Center Cut Ensures All  Will Get Asparagus Tops
Instead of making a simple strata with few ingredients, I wanted to load the strata with an assortment of different veggies. To settle the “bacon vs. sausage” debate at home, I wanted to include both. Asparagus, bacon, roasted red peppers, mushrooms, onions, sundried tomatoes, and sausage is a colorful and tasty combo, though strata, like pizza, is an arena where you can demonstrate considerable creativity.

Overview of Slice of Strata
Contrast of Colors and Flavors
Using only one meat (or none!) will simplify preparation, if you’d like to vary the recipe. I used a locally made chicken sausage (mild Italian variety), but use whatever sausage you like. Do use nitrite-free bacon. Since I included salty meats, I’ve used only ¼ teaspoon salt. If you eliminate the meats, increase the salt to ½ teaspoon.

Whole Pan of Baked Strata
Impressive Presentation for Easter or Anytime
I wanted to make two distinct layers: sausage, onion, mushroom, and sundried tomato on the bottom, and asparagus, bacon, and roasted pepper on the top. Many recipes repeat the same layer twice.  High fiber English muffins can be replaced with white bread or challah. Many people use more bread that I do, but it’s not necessary.

Strata is, of course, a classic for Easter brunch. Enjoy working with this recipe and please share your successful variations in a comment.

Strata Closeup Showing Bacon, Asparagus, Red Peppers and lots of Cheese
Closeup of Yum
Asparagus, Bacon, and Sausage Strata
serves 6 – 8

¼ lb. bacon
¼ lb. mild Italian chicken sausage
1 tbsp. or less olive oil
3 wholegrain English muffins
½ lb. young, thin asparagus
1 tsp. butter
¼ cup finely chopped onion
1 cup thinly sliced crimini mushrooms, ~3 oz.
6 eggs
2¼ cups lowfat milk
1¼ tsp. dry mustard
¼ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
½ cup dried tomatoes (not in oil)
¼ cup roasted red peppers (from jar)
4 – 5 oz. sharp cheddar, grated
Spray or non-spray oil

Put bacon in cold sauté pan and fry on medium until browned, about 7 minutes. Flip bacon halfway through sauté process. Drain on paper towels, pat dry, and set aside.

Remove sausage from casing. Heat olive oil in pan and brown over medium high heat, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Drain and set aside.

Split and toast English muffins. Break up into small crouton-size pieces and set aside.

Snap tough ends off asparagus. Try to make the spears a consistent size that will just fit crosswise in an 8” x 11.5” baking dish that is at least 2” deep. Set aside.

Sauté onions in butter over medium high heat, stirring, until barely translucent, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté, stirring, until they begin to release their juices, about 1 minute. Set aside.

Beat eggs thoroughly. Beat in milk, dry mustard, salt, and cayenne pepper. Set aside.

Spray or lightly oil a 8” x 11.2” baking pan that is at least 2" deep.

Put half or a bit more of the English muffin pieces in the bottom of the pan, covering the bottom as evenly as possible. Stir the cooked sausage into the onion and mushroom mixture. Carefully distribute over the muffin layer. Top with dried tomato slices. Sprinkle on half or a bit less of the grated cheese.  

Layer the remaining muffin pieces over the cheese. Lay the asparagus evenly crosswise in the baking dish, alternating the direction in which the tips point. Top evenly with roasted red peppers and bacon. Finally, top with the remaining cheese.

Pour the egg mixture slowly over the entire casserole, using a zigzag motion across the pan so that the egg mixture soaks down evenly and moistens every part of the muffin layer. Gently press down on the top layer with the back of a wooden spoon to gently submerge all parts of the casserole (it’s normal for the top to spring back up after moistening).

Cover the baking pan and refrigerate for 8 – 12 hours to allow muffins to absorb the liquid.

Remove strata from the refrigerator and allow it to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. This ensures more even baking.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Place strata in middle of oven. Bake time is generally 45 – 50 minutes, but check at 40 minutes. When done, strata will be set in the middle and slightly brown. Depending on the type of bread that you use and how much liquid was absorbed, bake times may vary.

Remove strata from oven when done and allow to cool for 15 minutes before cutting and serving. Make the first cut down the center lengthwise to ensure that everyone gets some asparagus tips!

Asparagus, Bacon, and Roasted Peppers atop English Muffins
The Layer Process: Second to Top Layer

Asparagus, Roasted Pepper, and Bacon Topped with Cheese
The Layering Process: Top Layer of Cheese

Asparagus, Cheese and Bacon with Egg Below
The Layering Process: After Pouring in Egg Mixture

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