Sometime in my late childhood/early pre-teen years, I took it upon myself to instill some family Christmas traditions. Ever the Capricorn/Type A personality, I had decided that listening to the Anne Murray Christmas album and eating copious quantities of those cherry surprises – you know, the ones with the maraschino cherries wrapped in coconut and rolled in graham wafers – were not nearly solid enough traditions for me, and decided that something had to be done.
Enter the unwrapping of Christmas presents in the most painstaking manner possible: one every half an hour. While we waited, we would play with whatever gadget we’d unwrapped, and stuff our faces with peppermint flavoured chocolates. Enter also the multitude of complaints from fellow family members, which has carried on through time until now it is my husband who gripes about this savouring of Christmas day, a tradition that often has us still opening presents as the sun begins to lower on the horizon.
The other part of the family tradition that no one seems to mind too much is the assembly and consumption of an enormous baking dish full of hearty, smoky, salty, eggy, cheesy breakfast strata.
In my teenage years we would begin to prepare our breakfast during perhaps the second or third break between present-openings, and let it bake slowly while we opened up another round of gifts. After I married the hubby and we started fancying ourselves amateur gourmets, the traditional Christmas morning strata got adapted with some slightly more sophisticated ingredients, like prosciutto, spinach, and sauteed onions. We had hit the jackpot: this strata was certainly a tradition worth upholding, and remains an integral part of our Christmas morning routine.
This dish doesn’t follow a recipe so much as some basic guidelines. You need:
- a loaf of bread (preferably a crusty artisan-style loaf), sliced
- onions, sauteed until soft
- prosciutto, lightly sauteed, if desired
- lots of your favourite cheese, grated
- Salt, pepper and thyme, to taste
First, lay down a layer of bread in a baking dish – size dependent on how big a crowd you’re feeding. Top that with a layer of spinach, onions and prosciutto, as well as a sprinkle of cheese. Another layer of bread, and then another layer of the veggies, meat and cheese. Continue layering until your baking dish is full, ensuring that the final layer is a nice thick sprinkling of grated cheese. Beat together the eggs and milk in a bowl, adding the spices. Pour the mixture over the strata. If your baking dish is clear, this mixture should fill the dish up to just over the half way point to ensure a moist-but-not-too-moist dish. You can always scramble up some more eggs if you didn’t initially have enough.
Cover with tin foil and bake at 375 until the cheese is melted and the egg cooked – about 35 minutes, which may vary depending on the size of your baking dish. Broil until the cheese bubbles and browns, and serve between rounds of opening Christmas presents.