Usually we spend Easter Sunday with a bunch of friends, cooking up a big brunch, gorging ourselves on pork products, drinking champagne, and (last year, anyway) playing Wii. This year, however, we were on our own (our current apartment isn’t exactly suited for entertaining, but the situation will soon be rectified), the Wii sitting idly in its box until we can procure a television. As a result, we probably spent even more time than usual cooking ourselves fabulous Easter treats. Strata has always been one of my favorite brunch dishes, and I am given to making it on holidays, since it takes some time to prepare, but most of the hands-on work can be done the day before. We still had some Basque chorizo from the Salon in the fridge, so I decided to base this year’s Easter strata on that.
First I had to track down some Basque cheese, and went to check out a nearby Basque-centric shop I had read about. It seemed appropriate that the place was situated near the Pyrenées Métro stop. The shop itself had a very weird vibe, though. I walked in and the man there (the proprietor?), who was seated at a table, eating lunch, looked surprised to see me. I asked if they had any Basque cheeses, since there didn’t seem to be any merchandise on display, and I felt as though I had just walked into someone’s home. He said he did, and called to the back for his wife (or employee? I really don’t know). She came out, got a hunk of cheese from the fridge, and cut a small wedge for me. Then both of them insisted that the ONLY way to eat this cheese was with black cherry jam. I smiled and nodded and got out of there.
Cut to Saturday evening. I had acquired a large bag of onions at the market on Thursday, and thought that caramelized onions would be excellent in the strata. Nick, feeling industrious, took it upon himself to slice up about 4 onions and start them cooking right after dinner.
Since we didn’t have any big plans for the next morning, I decided to put off assembling the strata until then. Bright and early on Sunday, which was a gorgeously sunny morning, I woke up and got to work. I buttered the baking dish and laid down slices of bread, like this:
There’s a prize for the first person to correctly identify the 3 slices of pain tradition (or tradi, as I just recently learned it is called colloquially). On a side note, if you are ever buying bread in Paris, I strongly suggest you forgo the baguette in favor of the tradi. In any given bakery, it is the bread that is given the most love and care in its preparation, and you can really taste the difference. There is a bakery just down the street that somehow always has tradis fresh from the oven, still warm. But I digress. Back to the strata.
I topped the bread slices with a layer of onions, followed by layers of chorizo and cheese.
After that, more onions and a final layer of bread slices – like a dish full of tiny sandwiches!
Then I beat some eggs with milk, cream, salt, and pepper. I poured this mixture over the bread slices, making sure to coat each one. I covered the whole thing with plastic wrap and weighted it down with the bag of onions in order to make sure the bread soaked up all of the custard. (You can make this up to this point and let it sit in the fridge overnight, if you want.) After an hour or so, it looked like this:
I placed it in the oven and we waited, cleaning up the mess I had made and enjoying our leisurely morning coffee. The total baking time was a little over an hour at 175C, and I rotated the pan halfway through. And when it was done…