Pancetta, Gouda, & Kale Strata

Strata

On Saturday we held our monthly baking meetup. While we usually focus on sweet things, this  time we decided to put a twist on the theme and encouraged everyone to try their hand at savory baked treats. I knew immediately that I wanted to make something breakfast oriented, it being my favorite meal of the day regardless of what time of the day it’s served, so I opted for this strata that I found in the pages of Real Simple.

It was on a blustery, cold Friday night that I set out to pick up my ingredients from the Trader Joe’s near work. The original strata features sausage, kale, and either Manchego or fontina cheese, but you know by now that I can never make a recipe straight off the page, right? I had already decided that I was going to switch the cheese to gouda, because who doesn’t love a gouda, but when I couldn’t find anything resembling breakfast sausage, I was forced to make another change. It was too darned cold and the wind was blowing too darned hard for me to even think of stopping in at another grocery store, so I surveyed the options in front of me. They had this wonderful package of what they called “bacon ends,” which sounded ridiculously delicious, but the one pound package was way more than I needed. I didn’t want to have a half a pound of bacon lying around (I’d just eat it!) so I went with the smaller package of chopped pancetta. It was already cut small and I could use it all up – that sounded about right to me.

As I cut up the bread cubes, browned the pancetta, and wilted the kale, I listened to the wind howling through the alley beyond my windows. It was the perfect night to stay in with my fleece jammies, prepare a little food, and spend some quality time with Mr. Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Dracula. I tell you, sometimes introversion does you favors.

The ingredients were mixed all together and poured into a baking dish to rest overnight. It didn’t look particularly great, but it was too late to try something else and, well, making mistakes is all part of baking so I am never one to be embarrassed when I do. When I baked it the next day and brought it to the meetup, I offered with a disclaimer. “I can’t vouch for how good this may or may not be, so I won’t be offended if no one likes it.”

I served myself a portion, piled my plate high with the other goodies, and took a bite. It was…surprisingly good! I admit to have misgivings about the kale – I don’t hate kale but I am not on the all-kale-all-the-time bandwagon – but it was tender and flavorful and worked really well in the egg and gouda custard. The pancetta offered just a hint of salty goodness and I was not longing for the missing sausage or bacon in the least. At that point I reversed my original sentiment. I no longer cared what anyone else thought of my strata – I thought it was fantastic.

One of our regulars brought hand-made Marble Rye. WHAT!

One of our regulars brought hand-made Marble Rye. WHAT!

I halved the original recipe and baked it in a 9-inch cake pan. Double it if you’re cooking for a crowd and bake it in a 9×13-inch dish or, as I’m particularly interested it in trying, portion however many servings you’re making into the appropriate number of ramekins for individual stratas. I look at this recipe as a blueprint. Mix it up with whatever ingredients – veggies, cheeses, meat or no meat – as you see fit and make it something you’ll really love to eat. I imagine a sauteed mushroom, onion, and gruyere strata would be delicious. Mmm…that’s what I’m trying next time!

¼ pound chopped pancetta
3-4 cups chopped curly kale leaves (about half of one of those packages)
½ small loaf of multigrain bread*, cubed (about 2 ½ cups; I used a multigrain ciabatta)
unsalted butter
6 large eggs
1 cup milk (I used 2%)
½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
salt and black pepper
1 cup grated gouda cheese

*Typically bread puddings and, thus, stratas call for the use of stale bread. Since I had just bought my bread, I quickly “staled” it by cutting it into cubes and putting it in a 300° oven for about 20 minutes. Not enough to brown it, but just enough to dry it out a little.

Butter a 9-inch round cake pan or an 8×8-inch square baking dish.

Brown the pancetta in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the kale and toss it so the leaves become evenly coated with the fat from the pancetta. (What, you thought we were going to drain that pork fat? C’mon, son.) Cook it until it’s wilted, but still bright green, about 3 minutes.

Whisk the eggs together in a large bowl. Add the milk, mustard, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Stir in the cheese and add the bread, kale, and pancetta. Stir together until well mixed, then pour into the prepared baking dish*. Let sit for one hour or overnight in the refrigerator to let the bread soak up all of the custard.

*The original recipe said to place the bread in the dish, top with the kale mixture, then add the egg mixture. When I did that, I just had a bunch of unincorporated things all strewn about, topped with a pile of cheese. Probably still delicious, but not what I wanted. A large mixing bowl solved that problem.

If the strata is refrigerated overnight, remove from the refrigerator for 40 minutes prior to baking. Bake it at 350° for 40-45 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and set, but the center is still a little wet. Let cool for 15 minutes for serving. The strata can be served hot or at room temperature.

Makes 4 delicious, savory servings. Perfect for breakfast, brunch, lunch, linner, dinner, and 2am. Basically, anytime that breakfast would be enjoyed, which is all the time.

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