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What is Strata?
Strata refers to a layered breakfast or brunch casserole that has a base of bread, eggs, and cheese. This base is extended to include any number of delicious veggies or proteins such as ham, bacon, or sausage. One key step in the creation of a strata is letting it rest in the refrigerator for a number of hours - most commonly overnight - to allow the bread layer of the casserole to soak up the liquid ingredients before it is baked. This long soak will cause the bread to puff up all nice and fluffy as the strata bakes, resulting in an almost souffle-like texture.
Strata is a popular holiday breakfast or brunch recipe, though it's easy enough to be made at any time of the year - especially for weekend meals.
How To Make Strata
Let's take a look at some of the common ingredients in a strata as well as some ways you can customize it to make it your own. In this version, I've made some lighter substitutes for some of the base players in a strata to "healthy it up" a bit. This recipe is not low carb or low cal, to be sure, but because the traditional versions can be super heavy (and delicious, let's not forget that) I wanted to play with a healthy version of a strata to see if I could create one that doesn't sacrifice taste. The verdict: it came out awesome!
Bread: You can use sliced or cubed bread in a strata. A white wheat bread or French bread is a popular choice. I like using sliced bread because it helps the cut servings stay together in pretty little squares when sliced. For this recipe, I used slices of hearty whole wheat and sugar free bread to layer the casserole.
Eggs: The cornerstone ingredient to any strata - a full dozen is used here.
Milk: This is where I lightened things up a bit. Some strata recipes go super rich on the dairy and use half and half (and let's be honest... yum), but you'll see anything from skim to whole milk showing up in ingredient lists. I chose to use unsweetened almond milk based on my consistent success with substituting it into many different recipes, and it worked great here.
Cheese: I mean... you gotta have it. I kept things standard here and chose to use a combination of sharp cheddar and pepper jack cheeses for some good bite. You can substitute with any cheese that you want. This is a great casserole for using up the random bits and shreds of cheeses that accumulate in your fridge. Throw 'em all in there, it'll be great.
Protein: This is another area where I kept things light by using uncured turkey bacon. Some yummy substitutes for protein in strata would be ham, regular bacon, or turkey/regular sausage. All proteins should be cooked before adding to the casserole.
Seasonings: I kept things simple and used only salt, pepper, and a bit of ground mustard. I've seen many different seasonings combinations depending on the other ingredients. When feta cheese is used - Greek seasoning is awesome. I've also seen Italian seasoning, Cajun seasoning, and even dry ranch seasoning!
Veggies: I love the combo of sautéed onions and garlic in, well, everything, so that's how I started out this strata. Yellow onions are amazing for sauteeing/caramelizing and building flavor to the base of a dish. Alternatively, you can use sauteed chopped shallots or sprinkle in some sliced green onion. Mushrooms are a popular veggie to toss into the saute. I used pimentos for color and for the great zing of flavor they give - especially combined with a sharp cheese. Roasted red pepper would also work. Need some greens? Toss in a handful of baby spinach.
As you can see, the flavor combo possibilities are endless with this style of breakfast casserole!
Can You Make This Ahead of Time?
The strata will need at least 2-3 hours in the refrigerator to allow the bread to soak up the liquid ingredients and let the bread to puff up and create the hallmark texture of a layered breakfast casserole. A 12-hour soak is the most common, which is perfect for prepping in the evening and preparing the strata for breakfast the next morning. However, if you need to make the strata sooner, the unbaked eggs will stay safe to eat for up to 2 days. My "official" recommendation is no longer than 36 hours just to protect the integrity of the other ingredients as well. A 24-hour soak is the longest that I have personally gone.
Is It Freezer Friendly?
This recipe makes a big ol' deep and heavy 9x13 casserole. If you know your family won't eat that much strata at once, you can freeze it! If you want to freeze half of the recipe, split the ingredients between two 8x8 dishes (these inexpensive disposable aluminum pans work great for this). After the strata soaks in the refrigerator, wrap the dish tightly in aluminum foil and then again with plastic wrap. Freeze on a level surface to avoid making a mess. When ready to bake a frozen strata, let it thaw in the refrigerator, and then follow the baking instructions in the recipe. Check on the strata sooner while it's in the oven, as baking time will be reduced just a bit.
Is Strata Only A Breakfast Food?
No way! Strata is wonderful at any time of the day - breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner. It's such a versatile and customizable dish - I know you'll love it!Print
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