This past weekend I volunteered to help prepare food for a local conference on creating a new economy (creating an “Ojai dollar” based on the Berkshare concept). It was a great opportunity to cook with new people and cook for a large group (60 plus dinners on Friday and the same for lunch on Saturday). For Saturday we made a Zucchini Tomato Basil strata. I was in charge of this dish and it involved massive quantities of eggs (80), ricotta and parmesan cheeses (20 cups of each), shredded zucchini (60 cups), and bread cubes soaked in water, among other ingredients.
As a lover of simple Italian food I was shocked that I had never heard of this dish with very peasanty origins. When I decided to make it for myself and blog about it I looked up a more single person friendly recipe and found that most recipes call for soaking the bread overnight in the egg and milk mixture, which definitely sounds like a peasant thing to do. However, I was impatient and decided to do it the way we had made it for the conference.
Having just discovered this dish I can’t help but remark how similar it is to Midwestern Egg Bakes (mix egg, milk, cheese and cooked vegetables and pour in a pan lined with old bread and bake) or French Quiche, fanciest with a pastry crust. I love making the connections between generations of women who cooked with what was available and, not surprisingly, created similar dishes.
I had dandelion greens that needed to be used and since they have a tendency towards bitterness even when they’re freshly picked, I added the carmelized onions to sweeten the dish.
Carmelized Onion and Dandelion Greens Strata
6-8 eggs, depending on size
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
2 cups cubed bread (old or fresh is fine)
1 1/2 cups shredded parmesan
1 onion, slivered
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch dandelion greens, washed and chopped
1 teaspoon blue cheese, crumbled
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Preheat oven to 350. Over medium heat cook the onions in the oil (this is more than usual since it helps carmelize the onions in 30 minutes instead of the hour or more it can take). Once carmelized, add greens to pan and toss to help them wilt. Once wilted remove from heat and set aside. Place bread in bowl and add enough water to submerge. Allow to soak 10-20 minutes until bread is very soft. Squeeze out water and set aside. In bowl crack eggs and beat with salt and pepper. Add cheeses and blend well. Add vegetables and bread and mix well. Taste for salt and pepper. It will be a very thick batter. Oil baking dish and pour batter in pan and bake for 30 minutes. If strata does not rise after 30 minutes, increase heat to 450 and cook another 10 minutes until lightly browned and fluffy. You may have to cook another 5-10 minutes if the strata appears wiggly in the middle. Allow to cook 5-10 minutes and slice and eat warm or cool.
Similar to quiche, this is one of those dishes that works well with an assortment of vegetables cooked or raw (the zucchini was raw in the large quantity version) or additions of seasoned pork (bacon, sausage, pancetta). You could even vary the cheeses by adding goat cheese for half of the ricotta or some feta. Just make sure the liquid is at a minimum because that will slow down the cooking.