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Brighten a Casserole with Summery Flavors

Fine Cooking Issue 40
Photo: Judi Rutz
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In summer, my dinner needs change. I want to eat lighter and to use the vegetables and herbs from my garden, and I don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Although cooking on the grill addresses these concerns well, by late summer, I also need a break from the grill.

So how does this vegetable strata fit in? Perfectly. Sort of a lazy person’s quiche, the bottom “crust” is made from sliced bread that’s topped with quickly sautéed vegetables. The vegetables and bread are bound by eggs beaten with milk and cheese, which brown and puff up nicely in the oven unattended—while you’re out in the yard. The eggs and cheese may make the dish sound too rich for a hot summer night, but the mixture is brightened by the addition of fresh basil. Once the eggs set, the strata cuts easily into squares for serving. I serve it alongside a crisp green salad, with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or a squeeze of lemon on both. A Sauvignon Blanc or a rosé would be a nice summery accompaniment.

When summer ends, you’ll want to keep the strata idea in your repertoire. You can play with the vegetables and cheese: sautéed leeks and mushrooms with Gruyère is a wonderful fall version (try a little fresh thyme in place of basil), as is onion and broccoli with Cheddar. Experiment with the bread, too: a sourdough baguette adds a bit of tang; a sesame-coated crust gives some texture; brioche soaks up more of the egg mixture; and olive bread adds another flavor element altogether.

One thing to keep in mind no matter what kind of strata you’re assembling: Though it’s tempting to skip the cooking of the vegetables, you need to do it, both to intensify their flavor and to rid them of much of their water; otherwise this dish ends up a watery mess.


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