Cheese Strata – Memories of my mother

December 30th, 2009 / Comments 4

My mother had a creative approach to language.  In her alphabet, the sequence was – l,m,n,o,p,q, U because “ q is always followed by u”.  She called guacamole Glocca Morra because she knew that Glocca Morra had something to do with Ireland – mashed avocados were green – green was the color of Ireland. Perfect logic!

Pta Chicken c egbert Cheese Strata   Memories of my mother

On New Year’s Day she always served what she called “la Strada” – an Italian specialty that she thought was named in honor of the Federico Fellini film of the same name.   She had the Italian part right but actually it’s called strata because this mock soufflé is made up of layers of bread, cheese, vegetables, and meat. Even though she had the name wrong, the recipe was right and  I think of her whenever I make it.

ZPV Scallions c egbert 02 Cheese Strata   Memories of my motherCheese Strata is a friendly and flexible recipe.  I modify it depending on the contents of my fridge, the pantry and the preferences of my guests.  It can be a cheese, cheese and vegetable, or a Fellinesque extravaganza. Since it must be put together at least twelve hours before being served, it is the perfect centerpiece for a holiday brunch whether or not it follows a holiday eve of merry making. Here’s how my mother made it:

Betty’s la Strada – Cheese Strata (to the rest of us)

On the day before the brunch, Mother began by buttering both sides of twelve slices of white bread (it had to be either Pepperidge Farm or Arnold white sandwich bread) for a dish that would serve six.  She buttered a rectangular glass baking dish before lining it with six slices of the buttered bread. Then, she covered the bread with a layer of grated cheddar cheese, about a cup, and topped the cheese with a handful of thinly sliced scallions. The remaining six slices of bread were next and the final layer was a second cup of grated cheese.

She used a whisk to combine five eggs, one and a half cups of milk, two teaspoons of Dijon mustard, half a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and a teaspoon of Worchestshire sauce in a medium a mixing bowl.  She poured this mixture over the layers of bread and cheese, covered the baking dish with plastic wrap and put it into the refrigerator and left it to “rest” over night.

The next morning, the uncovered and well-rested strada was baked for thirty minutes in the oven that had been preheated to 300 degrees.  After 30 minutes she turned the oven to 325 degrees and baked it for 15 minutes more or until it was puffy and lightly browned.

I don’t know where Mother got this recipe but it has been one of my favorites, especially for brunch when I wanted a hearty meal that required minimum effort.  I have modified this recipe and have added layers or vegetables and meat – including asparagus, spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, bacon, sausage or ham. Here’s how I have modified it:

When I’m feeding a crowd I double or even treble the basic ingredients. I put a layer of vegetables between the two bread layers and have found that except for slices of tomato, all vegetables should be cooked, seasoned and cooled before they are added. Ham should be diced and bacon or sausage should be cooked, crumbled, and cooled before being added.

I have replaced cheddar cheese with Swiss, Munster, mozzarella or goat cheese and I have also added fresh herbs to complement the flavors of the vegetables or meat layers.

Although a strata is not a real soufflé it will collapse quickly so the diners should be at the table before the soufflé is served.  To complete the brunch I serve a tossed green salad topped with sauteed pears, apples or grapes, that has been dressed with a mild vinaigrette and if I’ve made a vegetarian strata I serve bacon or sausage as well.

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Cheese Strata List

  • 12 slices white bread – either Pepperidge Farm or Arnold white sandwich bread
  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • 8 oz  cheddar cheese
  • 3 scallions
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/2  cups milk
  • 2 t Dijon mustard
  • 1 t Worchestshire sauce
  • salt and pepper
  • see recipe for optional cheeses, vegetables and/or meat
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• 4 Responses to “Cheese Strata – Memories of my mother”

  • Lucia says:

    What a great blog entry! Thanks for sharing your mom’s recipe.

  • Lynda Barber says:

    Remembering your mother via her recipes is the kind of culinary nostalgia that makes my heart sing and my mouth water. Keep them coming. Lynda

  • Suzy says:

    Hi Carol,

    I have been enjoying your food blog. Your “Betty’s la Strada” is like my Christmas breakfast recipe. My recipe, from my Mother too must have Pepperidge Farm or Arnold bread, only I cube 16 slices with the crust cut off and place half in the bottom of a butter 9×13 then add cheddar, swiss cheese and ham cubed (the cheese is supposed to be grated but that means another dirty dish and more time, which I have very little)then the remaining bread cubes. The egg, milk, dry mustard, salt and pepper mixture pours over the cut up ingredients and then, a twist to your recipe, crushed up corn flakes tossed in butter placed over top. Cover up dish in plastic wrap and set in the fridge over night. In the morning when Santa has arrived I immediately put it in the oven and when we are finished opening gifts, our breakfast is ready.

    Carol even Jim enjoys reading your newest events, travels and recipes. This is another creative extension of your many, many talents. When I am at work I enjoy reading your recipes in the newspaper. I love it, keep it coming!!


    • Carol says:

      Thanks Suzy. The corn flakes are an interesting addition I’ll have to try. I’m sure the strata is much better with your fresh eggs. Happy New Year.

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