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    Brunch star

    A bread, cheese, and egg strata, with anything else you like, is a great way to start the day (or year).

    Broccoli and cheese is a classic savory strata combination. But you can tweak the basic recipe any way you like.
    Photograph by jim sherer/Styling by CATRINE KELTY
    Broccoli and cheese is a classic savory strata combination. But you can tweak the basic recipe any way you like.

     TIP First cover the strata with plastic wrap, then add a small pan (or a couple of small plates), and heavy cans as weights.

    Think of the Leek, Herb, and Havarti Strata recipe as less a prescription you should follow to the letter than a formula you can use to make your own recipe. Don’t love havarti? Use cheddar or fontina or Gouda or jack or any other good melting cheese. No leeks in the house? Try chard, onions, or another vegetable. Or combine a vegetable and meat.

    If your bread has a particularly thick crust, you may want to remove it. And unless your bread is very stale, toast it.


    Choose a deep baking dish to prevent the custard mixture from spilling over when you weigh down the strata. First, I cover the strata with plastic wrap. Then, I set 2 salad plates side by side on the strata’s surface and place canned tomatoes on the plates.


    Serves 8-10

    6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

    2 leeks, white and light green parts halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch half-moons (about 4 cups)

    Salt and pepper

    cup chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as parsley, basil, dill, chives, oregano, thyme, scallion greens, or celery leaves

    10 large eggs

    3½ cups half-and-half

    ½ cup grated Parmesan

    1½ pounds stale French, Italian, scali, hearty pullman, or country white bread, cut into ½-inch-thick slices

    4 cups grated havarti cheese (about 12 ounces) 

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    In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter and heat until the bubbling subsides. Add the leeks and 1 teaspoon salt, and cook, covered and stirring occasionally, until they soften, about 10 minutes. Set aside off heat to cool; add the herbs and pepper to taste and stir to mix. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until uniform. Whisk in the half-and-half, Parmesan, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper, and set aside.

    jim sherer

    Grease a deep 3-quart baking dish (a 13-by-9-inch pan works well) with 1 tablespoon butter. With the remaining butter, butter one side of each slice of bread. Arrange half the bread slices, buttered sides up, in a layer in the baking dish (cut to fit). Spread half the leek mixure over the bread and sprinkle with half the grated havarti. Repeat the layering. Pour the egg mixture over the strata and, with a large spatula or spoon, press the strata lightly to compact and allow the egg mixture to cover. Set the baking dish on a large rimmed baking sheet and cover the strata surface with plastic wrap. Set weights on the strata and refrigerate at least 3 and up to 24 hours.

    With the rack in the center position, heat the oven to 350 degrees; let the strata stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Uncover strata and bake (still on the baking sheet to catch spills) until puffed all over and edges have pulled away slightly from sides of dish, 60 to 70 minutes. Set the strata on a wire rack to cool at least 10 minutes, and serve hot or warm.





    Follow the recipe for Leek, Herb, and Havarti Strata, making the following changes:

    1) Trim 1 pound of broccoli into bite-size florets. Cook the broccoli and 2 teaspoons salt in boiling water until bright green and barely tender, about 1½ minutes. Drain and set aside.

    2) Substitute 1 large onion, chopped, for the leeks. Saute the onion until soft, about 4 minutes. Add 3 cloves of garlic, minced, and ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, and continue to cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Omit the herbs, instead adding the blanched broccoli to the cooled onion mixture.

    3) Substitute sharp cheddar or goat cheddar for the havarti. 


    You can serve mustard as a condiment alongside the strata rather than incorporating it, or omit it.


    Follow the recipe for Leek, Herb, and Havarti Strata, making the following changes:

    1) Substitute 3 large onions, halved and sliced, for the leeks. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute the onions and ½ teaspoon salt until onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Adjust heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden and caramelized, about 20 minutes longer. Omit the herbs, instead adding ¾ cup pastrami or corned beef, chopped into rough ¼-inch pieces, to the cooled onion mixture.

    2) Omit the Parmesan from the egg mixture.

    3) Substitute rye bread (sliced at least ½ inch thick) for the French or Italian bread. Spread the bottoms of the buttered bread slices with spicy brown mustard.

    4) Substitute Swiss cheese for the havarti.  

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