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THE CONFIDENT COOK

Recipe: Turn the popular brunch dish, strata, into dinner with sauteed summer vegetables

Summer Vegetable Strata
Summer Vegetable StrataSheryl Julian

Serves 4

To make the wildly popular brunch dish, strata, you layer bread with eggs, milk, cheese and, often, sausages or bacon. It sits in the fridge overnight so the next morning, the hosts can breeze into the kitchen, slide the dish into the oven, make coffee, and serve an impressive breakfast. Like all variations of strata -- including an over-the-top version that uses croissants -- the casserole is meant to repurpose stale bread. Cubed or sliced, the dry bread is covered with the egg and milk custard, which soaks the pieces until they're transformed into a tender pudding. Strata can also be dinner if you change up the layers a little. And though the dish is typically baked in a large casserole, this one is scaled down to serve four. Saute zucchini rounds, whole cherry tomatoes, and corn cut off the cob. Layer the vegetables with toasted cubes of bread, grated Gruyere or another distinctive hard cheese, and some fresh herbs. Pour in only enough custard to come halfway up the bread, rather than submerge it. After it rests (for at least four hours, and for up to a day), the bottom of the strata has a familiar creamy consistency, but the top squares of bread, like giant croutons, are crusty, cheesy bites. And like all guests served strata, the people beside you at the kitchen table will be thrilled.

Butter (for the dish)
½ large loaf (1/2 pound) unsliced crusty bread
Olive oil (for sprinkling)
Salt and pepper, to taste
2tablespoons olive oil
2small zucchini, thickly sliced
½pint cherry tomatoes, each pricked once with a knife
2ears fresh corn, kernels removed from cobs
4 eggs
1cup whole milk
1tablespoon flour
2tablespoons chopped fresh thyme or oregano
4ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded

1. Set the oven at 375 degrees. Generously butter a 8-inch square baking dish (or another dish with a 1 1/2-to-2-quart capacity).

2. Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes. On a rimmed baking sheet, spread the bread out to make one layer. Sprinkle with olive oil and salt. Transfer to the oven. Toast the cubes for 12 to 14 minutes, turning several times, or until they are dry but not brown.

3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the zucchini in one layer (it's OK if a few are in a second layer) and cook without disturbing for 2 minutes. Turn and cook 2 minutes more. Remove from the pan. Add the tomatoes and cook, shaking the pan constantly, for 2 minutes, or until they start to collapse. Add the corn and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute more. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool.

4. In a bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, flour salt, and pepper.

5. In the baking dish, spread out half the bread cubes. Add the zucchini and corn mixture (leave behind any liquid in the pan), 1 tablespoon of the thyme or oregano, and half the cheese. Spread the remaining bread cubes on top. Pour the egg mixture into the dish at the edges. With your hands, press the top. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

6. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or for as long as 1 day.

7. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Set the baking dish on the sheet pan and remove the plastic wrap.

8. Bake the strata for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the mixture is set in the middle and the top is golden brown. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon thyme or oregano.

Sheryl Julian

Serves 4

To make the wildly popular brunch dish, strata, you layer bread with eggs, milk, cheese and, often, sausages or bacon. It sits in the fridge overnight so the next morning, the hosts can breeze into the kitchen, slide the dish into the oven, make coffee, and serve an impressive breakfast. Like all variations of strata -- including an over-the-top version that uses croissants -- the casserole is meant to repurpose stale bread. Cubed or sliced, the dry bread is covered with the egg and milk custard, which soaks the pieces until they're transformed into a tender pudding. Strata can also be dinner if you change up the layers a little. And though the dish is typically baked in a large casserole, this one is scaled down to serve four. Saute zucchini rounds, whole cherry tomatoes, and corn cut off the cob. Layer the vegetables with toasted cubes of bread, grated Gruyere or another distinctive hard cheese, and some fresh herbs. Pour in only enough custard to come halfway up the bread, rather than submerge it. After it rests (for at least four hours, and for up to a day), the bottom of the strata has a familiar creamy consistency, but the top squares of bread, like giant croutons, are crusty, cheesy bites. And like all guests served strata, the people beside you at the kitchen table will be thrilled.

Butter (for the dish)
½ large loaf (1/2 pound) unsliced crusty bread
Olive oil (for sprinkling)
Salt and pepper, to taste
2tablespoons olive oil
2small zucchini, thickly sliced
½pint cherry tomatoes, each pricked once with a knife
2ears fresh corn, kernels removed from cobs
4 eggs
1cup whole milk
1tablespoon flour
2tablespoons chopped fresh thyme or oregano
4ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded

1. Set the oven at 375 degrees. Generously butter a 8-inch square baking dish (or another dish with a 1 1/2-to-2-quart capacity).

2. Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes. On a rimmed baking sheet, spread the bread out to make one layer. Sprinkle with olive oil and salt. Transfer to the oven. Toast the cubes for 12 to 14 minutes, turning several times, or until they are dry but not brown.

3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the zucchini in one layer (it's OK if a few are in a second layer) and cook without disturbing for 2 minutes. Turn and cook 2 minutes more. Remove from the pan. Add the tomatoes and cook, shaking the pan constantly, for 2 minutes, or until they start to collapse. Add the corn and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute more. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool.

4. In a bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, flour salt, and pepper.

5. In the baking dish, spread out half the bread cubes. Add the zucchini and corn mixture (leave behind any liquid in the pan), 1 tablespoon of the thyme or oregano, and half the cheese. Spread the remaining bread cubes on top. Pour the egg mixture into the dish at the edges. With your hands, press the top. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

6. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or for as long as 1 day.

7. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Set the baking dish on the sheet pan and remove the plastic wrap.

8. Bake the strata for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the mixture is set in the middle and the top is golden brown. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon thyme or oregano.Sheryl Julian


Sheryl Julian can be reached at sheryl.julian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.