What could be better than a savory custardy bread pudding that you can assemble a day ahead and serve to a houseful of guests? As the holiday season approaches with long weekends and overnight guests, Roasted Cherry Tomato & Zucchini Strata is the perfect brunch dish that will satisfy a hungry or hungover household.
The word strata actually means layering, a reference to the layered goodness in the dish. In deference to authenticity, this is not something you would find in Italy but the elements definitely bring Cucina Italia to mind. Strata can be a compilation of many ingredients, with hearty toasted bread and an egg based custard to pull everything together.
With the last of the cherry tomatoes on the vine and the flavor not especially at their peak, I decided to oven roast them to accentuate the sweetness. Keeping in mind that this might be the best possible route to take in the winter months when cherry tomatoes are, let us say, less than desirable.
Zucchini, diced and sautéed with garlic, pesto sauce, pecorino and mozzarella compliment the roasted cherry tomatoes quite nicely. Toast the bread slices, allow them to cool, breaking into irregular pieces and place in a zip lock bag. The vegetables can be prepared two days in advanced and refrigerated; cheeses may be grated and sliced ahead as well. Absolutely no guilt associated with using a good quality prepared pesto sauce, remember we are talking large scale entertaining, utilize every good shortcut possible.
The night before serving, prepare your baking dish, whisk together the custard and begin to layer the ingredients. Blanket the layers with the rich custard and set in the refrigerator to allow the bread to soak up the custardy goodness and have the flavors meld.
The next morning the strata is ready to bake so preheat the oven and get the Bellinis ready.
Strata is a versatile dish allowing for countless substitutions; perhaps you may have some sun dried tomatoes, or eggplant that could be roasted. What about smoked mozzarella or provolone? The key to composing a show stopping strata is to maximize and balance the flavors. The recipe can be easily doubled or tripled, so start planning that special brunch.
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- 13 large eggs
- 1 cup of heavy cream
- ½ loaf of ciabatta
- 1½ cups of prepared pesto sauce
- 2 pints of cherry tomatoes
- Head of garlic
- Fresh thyme
- 4 small-medium sized zucchini
- Olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup of grated pecorino
- ½ pound of low moisture mozzarella sliced
- Fresh basil for garnish
- 9 by 13 inch baking dish
- Butter to grease the baking dish
- Slice the ciabatta into 1 inches slices and toast either on a baking tray in a 325º oven or in a conventional toaster, watching carefully in both cases as to not burn the bread - set aside. Once cool, break the toasted slices into irregular pieces. The toasted bread pieces may be put in a plastic bag and set aside for the next day to assemble the strata.
- Preheat the oven to 325º, lay a sheet of parchment paper on a heavy duty baking tray, wash and dry the cherry tomatoes. Spread the cherry tomatoes over the baking parchment, drizzle with olive oil, scatter 4 garlic cloves over the tomatoes along with 6 or 7 sprigs of the thyme. Oven roast for 35 - 50 minutes or until the tomatoes shrivel, become darkened and release some of their juices. Remove the tray from the oven, set aside to cool. Once the tomatoes are cool discard the garlic and thyme and keep the roasted tomatoes for the next day.
- Wash the zucchini and trim the ends, do not peel; dice into half inch pieces. Peel and slice two cloves of garlic. Add olive oil to a saute pan along with the sliced garlic turning the flame to medium, add the diced zucchini and sauté until the zucchini is lightly brown; set aside to cool, remove the garlic. The cooled zucchini may be covered and placed in the refrigerator for the next day.
- The evening before you are ready to bake the strata, butter the baking dish. Place the pesto sauce into a large bowl, add the irregular pieces of toasted bread and toss until the bread is well coated with the pesto.
- Break the eggs into a large bowl with the cream and pecorino, whisk until the mixture is custard like.
- Arrange the pesto coated bread over the bottom of the buttered baking dish. Follow with a layer of the roasted tomatoes and any of the juices which have accumulated, then the zucchini.
- Tear the mozzarella slices into quarters and arrange the pieces over the zucchini.
- Pour the prepared custard over the contents of the baking dish, cover the dish with plastic wrap and place into the refrigerator overnight.
- The next morning removed the baking dish from the refrigerator about 30 - 40 minutes before you plan to put it into the oven, preheat the oven to 350º.
- Place the baking dish into the preheated oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the top is brown and the custard has set. Remove and set aside for at least 20 minutes before serving. When ready to cut into desired size portions and garnish with fresh basil,