Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

This Make-Ahead Strata Will Help It Look Like You're Not Woefully Out of Practice at Humaning

by 
Laura Scheck
July 23, 2021

It’s likely been well over a year since you’ve had a dinner party, invited friends over for brunch or shared a vacation home with extended family. It’s possible it has also been that long since you’ve had quality conversation with them, without feeling separated by a computer screen. So, now that’s it’s time to once again do all these things that we once took for granted, you don’t want to spend your time together fussing in the kitchen over a meal. Post pandemic parties call for make ahead meals. 

Even in the best of times, an expert host knows to prepare as much of the meal as possible before guests arrive. Now I’ll admit, despite my balaboosta vibes, planning and prepping ahead have not always been my strong suit. My husband would complain about many occasions in which I have whirled like a dervish in the kitchen 10 minutes before guests arrived, ordering him out to get ice or pick up prosecco. The more I’ve hosted, the more I’ve learned from my own mistakes, and the debrief notes I’ve written immediately afterwards (“mix signature cocktail blend the day before,” “chop and mince all vegetables and set aside in individual containers,” “serve soup that just needs reheating,” do a “cold dessert”). I’ve come a long way to benefit you from the errors of my past.

For our annual Halloween costume brunch, I used to bake a souffle of smoked salmon, chives and creme fraiche. Delicious, sure, but whipping and then folding in egg whites during the costume judging is not ideal. Equally deflating, our second wave of guests ate a soggy mess. I knew this needed updating.

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With over 15 months to plan my next brunch gathering, I've come up with the perfect dish for brunch or dinner that you can complete ahead of time. Make Ahead Mustard Green, Kale & Sausage Sourdough Strata has all the components of a complete meal, including loads of greens and protein. It’s prepped in advance -- even the day before -- and pays homage to a quarantine staple, sourdough, cubes of which have piled up in many of our freezers. You can, of course, use store-bought or farmers market bread instead. 

Strata, which literally means “layers,” is a casserole usually of bread, meats and vegetables and/or cheese. Akin to a savory bread pudding, it’s held together by a seasoned custard mixture that gets soaked up by the bread prior to baking. To enhance the flavor of the mustard greens, my custard mixture is seasoned with a kick of mustard powder and black pepper.

This dish is also a great dinner option. Make it earlier in the day and pop in the oven when your guests arrive. It will bake while you enjoy cocktails (that you batch mixed the night before) and you’ll serve it with a previously prepared soup that only requires heating and serving. Or perhaps you’ll be spending some time in a vacation home with your family this summer. Prepare this the day before and bake it for breakfast one morning. Your bamboozeled housemates will ask in amazement, “When did you make this?” and you can just smile and answer that it must have been the house elves. You’re well on your way to being crowned most prepared host of 2021. 

Make-Ahead Kale, Mustard Green Spinach and Sausage Sourdough Strata

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Yields 8-10 servings

Ingredients

3/4 lb. sweet Italian sausage

2-3 tbsp olive oil, divided

1 medium to large or up to 3 small onions, thinly sliced

1 bunch mustard greens, about 8-10 ounces, ribs removed, rinsed and roughly chopped 

1 small bunch lacinato kale, about 5-6 ounces, ribs removed, rinsed and roughly chopped 

1 5 oz. package of Fifth Season spinach, or more kale

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, optional

8 extra large eggs

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup cream, half and half, or more whole milk

3/4 tsp dried mustard powder

1-2 tsps salt, divided

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/2 loaf, approximately 1 lb, crusty sourdough bread, torn into 1/2-inch pieces, 4 cups

Hot pepper sauce, like Cholula or Tabasco for serving, optional

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Yields 8-10 servings

Ingredients

3/4 lb. sweet Italian sausage

2-3 tbsp olive oil, divided

1 medium to large or up to 3 small onions, thinly sliced

1 bunch mustard greens, about 8-10 ounces, ribs removed, rinsed and roughly chopped 

1 small bunch lacinato kale, about 5-6 ounces, ribs removed, rinsed and roughly chopped 

1 5 oz. package of Fifth Season spinach, or more kale

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, optional

8 extra large eggs

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup cream, half and half, or more whole milk

3/4 tsp dried mustard powder

1-2 tsps salt, divided

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/2 loaf, approximately 1 lb, crusty sourdough bread, torn into 1/2-inch pieces, 4 cups

Hot pepper sauce, like Cholula or Tabasco for serving, optional

Ingredients

3/4 lb. sweet Italian sausage

2-3 tbsp olive oil, divided

1 medium to large or up to 3 small onions, thinly sliced

1 bunch mustard greens, about 8-10 ounces, ribs removed, rinsed and roughly chopped 

1 small bunch lacinato kale, about 5-6 ounces, ribs removed, rinsed and roughly chopped 

1 5 oz. package of Fifth Season spinach, or more kale

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, optional

8 extra large eggs

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup cream, half and half, or more whole milk

3/4 tsp dried mustard powder

1-2 tsps salt, divided

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/2 loaf, approximately 1 lb, crusty sourdough bread, torn into 1/2-inch pieces, 4 cups

Hot pepper sauce, like Cholula or Tabasco for serving, optional

Directions

1. Either slice the sausage or take it out of its casings. In a large sauté pan with high sides, cook the sausage over medium high heat. If it sticks, add a drizzle of oil. You may not need any if your sausage is very fatty. If your sausage is loose, use a wooden spoon to break it up into smaller bits, each no larger than the size of a grape. Cook until lightly browned and no longer pink, about 6-7 minutes. 

2. Add in the onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes if using along with the sausage and a few pinches of salt. Sauté, stirring frequently, until softened and browned or just starting to caramelize, about 7-8 minutes.

3. Add the mustard greens, kale and baby spinach to the skillet with a few tablespoons of water if the leaves aren’t wet from washing. If all of the greens don’t fit at once, add more gradually as they cook down, making room in the pan for more. Add a pinch of salt to each big pile of greens you add to the pan. 

4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, and then add the milk, cream, mustard powder, salt and black pepper. Whisk until smooth.

5. Brush the bottom of a 3 quart or 9x13 inch baking dish with olive olive. Fit pieces of bread into the bottom of the baking dish in a single layer. Scatter half of the filling over the bread, then add the remaining bread on top, then the remaining filling. Pour the entire egg mixture over the top. Push the bread down to soak it with the egg mixture. All of the bread should be moistened but does not have to be submerged.

6. Cover with foil and refrigerate for 6-12 hours or overnight. It never hurts to set another baking dish or a few plates on top of the foil to hold the bread down in the egg mixture.

7. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the foil cover and drizzle the top lightly with olive oil. Replace the foil.

8. Bake covered for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 25-30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and crisp. 

9. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then serve with hot sauce if desired.

About the Author

Laura Scheck

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