Although this recipe from Sara Moulton Cooks at Home is called Breakfast Strata and the dish was originally designed for a weekend brunch, it will solve your busy-night dinner problems as well. You set it up the night before and then just put it in the oven 60 minutes before you want to serve. Breakfast strata is nothing more than a savory bread pudding with layers (strata in Latin) of bread cubes, vegetables, and cheese, all bound by eggs and milk. It is crusty on top and creamy in the center, my favorite combo.
This strata is as versatile and accommodating as an omelet. Once you feel comfortable with this version, you can make up your own: change the cheese, change the vegetables; add some ham, sausage, or bacon and it is a great vehicle for using up leftovers.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
15 to 18 medium shiitake mushrooms, about 10 ounces, stems removed and caps thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 large green bell pepper, thinly sliced
3 to 4 large scallions, white and 1 inch of the green parts, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 large eggs
3 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
One 1- to 1 1/2-pound loaf French or Italian country bread, crusts removed
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Several fresh basil leaves, shredded, for garnish
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, peppers, and scallions. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until softened, 10 to 15 minutes. Cool completely. (The recipe can be done up to a day in advance to this point. Keep tightly covered in the refrigerator until ready to assemble the strata.)
Whisk the eggs with the milk in a large bowl until blended. Whisk in the mustard and season with salt and pepper.
Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes. You should have about 8 cups of cubed bread. Butter a 2-quart shallow baking dish and spread half the bread over the bottom. Season with salt and pepper and scatter half the mushroom and pepper mixture over the bread. Sprinkle on half the Cheddar cheese and half the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Pour in half the egg mixture. Repeat the layering with the remaining bread, vegetable mixture, and cheeses. Slowly pour in as much of the remaining egg mixture as possible. (Place the dish on a baking dish to catch any spillovers.) Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the strata, uncovered, until lightly browned on top and set in the center, about 1 hour. Serve warm, garnished with basil leaves.