Tomato, Roasted Pepper and Basil Strata (with Leftover Hamburger Buns) Recipe

tomato, roasted pepper and basil strata recipe | pamela salzman

I hope you had a fantastic 4th of July weekend!  There’s a good chance if you hosted a party, that you have some leftover hamburger or hot dog buns lying around.  What were you planning on doing with them?  Bread crumbs?  Great idea.  Croutons?  Another great idea.  Putting them in the freezer for the next time you make burgers or dogs?  Good luck with that one.  My freezer is basically one-third buns.  They’re all freezer-burned too, because I was lazy and threw the bags in there and didn’t bother to wrap the buns tightly in foil first.  And my kids reject previously frozen buns.  They would rather eat a hot bog or a burger without a bun over one that has been previously frozen.  It’s kind of annoying since we’re a family of 5 and you can’t buy a bag of 5 buns.  And I cannot handle wasting food, even a silly hamburger bun.

sauteer red onion and garlic

So I came up with this strata using leftover hamburger buns that had been sitting in my freezer and that I absolutely knew would end up in the compost bin.  Stratas are kind of like savory bread puddings, more bread-y than an egg-y quiche or frittata .  I actually prefer a frittata, but my husband and kids love their bread!   I posted a strata on my site a few years ago with spinach, tomatoes and feta.  Super delicious and I love that you can put it together the night before to soak in the fridge and then you bake it in the morning easy peasy.

tomato, roasted pepper and basil strata | pamela salzman

I essentially took what I had — a large tomato, half a red onion, a handful of baby mozzarella balls and a jar of roasted peppers in the fridge, plus some basil from my patio, and combined them with eggs and milk and voila!  No one had any idea that I used leftover, previously frozen buns.  And no one had any idea they were all different, including a whole grain sprouted bun!  Of course, gluten-free buns work equally well.  A strata is so versatile that if you had some leftover roasted zucchini, you could throw it in there too.  Or a link of leftover sausage or a handful of corn kernels.  And if you wanted a higher proportion of eggs, go for it.  Just bake until the strata feels “set.”  So no liquid gushes out when you push on the center of the strata and it kind of bounces back a bit.

tomato, roasted pepper and basil strata | pamela salzman

tomato, roasted pepper and basil strata | pamela salzman

What’s also cool about this is that you can make it for breakfast, lunch or (Meatless Monday) dinner.  I served it in these photos with some lightly dressed arugula and I think that’s the best accompaniment or just a simple green salad.  But any non-starchy vegetable, like green beans or summer squash, would be great, too.  Because bread is the main ingredient, I wouldn’t serve another starch with a strata.  But I would serve it with a cold glass of rosé.  Happy summer!

tomato, roasted pepper and basil strata | pamela salzman

tomato, roasted pepper and basil strata | pamela salzman

tomato, roasted pepper and basil strata | pamela salzman

5.0 from 4 reviews
Tomato, Roasted Pepper and Basil Strata
Author: 
 
Ingredients
  • 1 Tablespoon unrefined, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing skillet
  • ½ large red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk or unsweetened, plain hemp milk or milk of choice
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt (or 1 teaspoon if your mozzarella is unsalted)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
  • 6 ounces bocconcini (baby fresh mozzarella cheese), drained if in water
  • 1 large tomato, seeded (if desired) and diced
  • 1 roasted red or yellow bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
  • a handful of basil leaves, julienned
  • 5-6 ounces of whole wheat, spelt or sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes, about 8 cups, preferably a little stale
  • For the Salad:
  • 6 ounces baby arugula
  • good aged balsamic vinegar
  • unrefined, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
Instructions
  1. Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 3-4 minutes, add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds, then remove from heat and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the milk, sea salt and pepper. Stir in the bocconcini, tomato, roasted red pepper, basil, bread and onion-garlic mixture, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. You don’t have to soak overnight, but I love the way the bread soaks up the mixture. Feel free to put it straight in the oven.
  3. If you soaked it overnight, remove the strata from the refrigerator and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 10-inch skillet (or a 9-inch pie plate or equivalent) with olive oil and pour the strata mixture into the skillet.
  4. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until egg mixture is set and top is golden brown.
  5. Remove strata from oven and allow to cool slightly.
  6. While the strata is cooling, toss the arugula with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil (just enough to coat) and sprinkle with salt.
  7. Top the strata with the arugula salad and serve, or cut the strata into serving size pieces and top each piece with arugula salad.
Notes
Unbaked strata can be frozen if wrapped tightly. Thaw in the refrigerator before baking, uncovered.

MINI-STRATAS: grease 4 individual ramekins or muffin tins. First layer bread then vegetables and cheese. Last, pour egg, milk, salt and pepper on top. Refrigerate overnight, if desired. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

 

Hen of the Woods Mushroom Toast Recipe

Hen of the Woods Mushroom Toast | Pamela Salzman

I don’t eat out that much, but one of my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles is Gjelina in Venice.  I would probably go there more often, but getting a table at a reasonable hour is impossible!  Before my first visit a few years ago, a friend strongly suggested I order the Mushroom Toast.  Let me just say that when I saw items on the menu like “Crispy Purple Peruvian Potatoes!” and “Moroccan Chickpea and Black Kale Stew!,” (I used the exclamation points, Gjelina did not) I wasn’t overly excited about “Mushroom Toast.”  But I trust my friend and ordered the mushroom toast and it was ONE OF THE BEST THINGS I HAVE EVER EATEN.  Delicate, earthy mushrooms in a light, creamy white wine-infused sauce, all poured over grilled bread and drizzled with truffle oil, the nooks and crannies of the toast catching every bit of mushroom juiciness.  It was so delicious, I actually had dreams about it that night.  True story!

Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, aka Maitake mushrooms

 

chop the mushrooms of break apart with your hands

The problem is that Gjelina doesn’t share their recipes, at least not with little old me.  So after a game of 20 questions with my waiter, I had a game plan for attempting to recreate this dish at home.  The ingredients are ones I never would have thought to put together on my own: Hen of the Woods mushrooms (what??), creme fraiche and truffle oil.  Now I may not have gotten the recipe exactly right, and in fact I do believe my version is less rich and creamy, but I am so obsessed with the way this turned out, that I don’t care how different mine is.  First of all, even though I don’t eat too much bread, I think anything on grilled bread is DE-licious!  And grilled bread rubbed with garlic is SUPER DE-licious!

grilling bread

But mushrooms are the star of this show and Hen of the Woods mushrooms are so meaty and earthy with the most delicate texture.  They also go by the name “Maitake” mushrooms.  I found them easily at Whole Foods and I have seen them at several local farmers markets.  I will warn you, they are pricey, so if you can’t find them or you don’t want to spend the money, you can use oyster or chanterelle mushrooms.  You really can’t use button mushrooms or Portobellos in this recipe.  I tried them here, and they’re too firm.  You really need something light and delicate.  Japanese mushrooms, including Maitake, are really good for you and contain loads of immune-boosting compounds and have even been shown to have anti-cancer and anti-tumor compounds.  They also have less water than traditional mushrooms, so they actually have a more mushroom-y flavor.  Yum!

reduce to a thickened sauce

I really went for it and bought truffle oil at Sur La Table to finish off the dish the way they do at Gjelina.  Yes, this mushroom mixture is already rich enough with the creme fraiche and the butter and the olive oil, but good gracious, a drizzle of truffle oil takes this over the top.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find truffle oil locally that was totally pure, without “truffle flavoring.”  But a quick search on amazon.com provided a few choices for all-natural truffle oils (like this one from JR Mushrooms & Specialties.)

pour the the mushrooms with the sauce over the toasts

a little garnish makes these look prettier

I taught this recipe in my class this month and more than one person asked, “why is this so good?”  It’s really everything, and not just one thing.  The grilled bread, the garlic rubbed on the grilled bread, the meaty, delicate mushrooms, the tangy creme fraiche (which is really just French sour cream), and the truffle oil all make this something so special.  The way I made it in these pictures would be amazing as an appetizer on a plate with or without a fresh green salad.  Or you can opt for a smaller piece of toast and serve this as an hors d’oeuvre, although it can be a tad messy.  I think even for brunch with a fried egg on top would be amazing.  Hoping you try this and love it as much as I do!

Hen of the Woods Mushroom Toasts

5.0 from 1 reviews
Hen of the Woods Mushroom Toast
Author: 
Serves: about 6
 
Ingredients
  • 3 large slices of crusty peasant bread, about ½-inch thick
  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil + additional for brushing bread
  • 1 whole garlic clove + 2 cloves, minced
  • 10 ounces Hen of the Woods mushrooms, aka Maitake, chopped or broken apart with your hands
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper or to taste
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup chicken, vegetable or mushroom stock
  • 6 Tablespoons crème fraiche
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Truffle oil to drizzle
  • Chopped fresh chives for garnish (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat a grill over medium heat.
  2. Brush both sides of bread with olive oil.  Grill bread on both sides until toasted and slightly charred.  Thinly slice the end off of the whole garlic clove and rub one side of each piece of bread with the cut side of the garlic.  Cut the bread in half crosswise and arrange on a platter.
  3. In a large sauté pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat.  Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds or until fragrant.  Add mushrooms, salt and pepper and sauté until softened.
  4. Add wine and cook until liquid is almost completely absorbed.
  5. Stir in chicken stock and cook until reduced by half, about 10 minutes.  Whisk in crème fraiche and butter and cook until slightly thickened, but still saucy.
  6. Spoon mushroom mixture with sauce over toasts.  Drizzle with truffle oil and a sprinkle of chopped fresh chives, if desired, and serve immediately.

Avocado Toast

perfect avocado toast | pamela salzman

A perfect avocado completes me.  I have a mild obsession with them.  If you gave me a choice between mashed avocado on a piece of toast or an ice cream sandwich, I honestly wouldn’t even think twice about it!  I am more addicted to avocados than I ever was to sugar.  Hmmm, ok maybe not completely true.  But I have a healthier relationship with avocados.  Right now is my favorite time of year, because I’ve got all my besties — tomatoes, peaches, figs, corn, basil and Reed avocados.  What’s a Reed avocado?  If you don’t know the answer, I already feel sorry for you that you haven’t experienced the mother of all avocados.  In my humble opinion, Reeds are TOPS, at least in this country.  My mother-in-law often reminisces about avocados from her native Puerto Rico and I have a student from Mexico who thinks that hers are the best.  I think they’re both just feeling nostalgic, because I don’t know how you can beat a Reed.

amazing Reed avocados

Just look at them!  They’re as big as softballs with a generous ratio of meat to pit and soooooooo creamy and rich.  Sinful!  But they’re not, because avocados are amazingly good for you.  Perfect, untouched, non-oxidized, healthful fats, plus fiber and loads of Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant.  Avocados are an incredible food for little ones whose brains are developing.  And I think they’re an awesome beauty food — so great for your skin.  Also, this happens to be a drying time of year, especially for the lungs and wouldn’t you know avocados are lubricating to the lungs, as well as to the intestines.  Love it.

How to Cut an Avocado

 

How to scoop an avocado from its shell

I have so many recipes on my site which use avocados, from salads to dressings to soups to smoothies.  But my favorite way to eat an avocado is on toast.  The contrast between soft and buttery avocado and crunchy toast makes me swoon.  Ditch your Saturday morning bagel and cream cheese and go this route on a good whole grain bread.  Delicious and so much better for you!  There are lots of ways I prepare avocado toast and I posted a few images here.  Most of the time, I eat this for breakfast either on spelt or millet toast.  But it’s also the perfect afternoon snack for you or your kids.  The fat in avocados really keeps you satisfied for so much longer than a popsicle or a bags of chips.  Not that you eat that, but if you did, avocado toast is a way better snack.  Right now, I’m buying Reeds at the farmers market 3 for $5 and I have also seen them in Whole Foods for $2.50 each.  I’ve been suckered by some markets with their $.69 avocados, and 90% of the time, they’re horrible.  That feeling of slicing into an avocado that looks like it should be good and then isn’t is THE WORST!

Avocado with Wild Smoked Salmon

My advice to you is buy your avocados underripe and allow them to ripen on the countertop.  If you try to buy them already ripe at the store, they’ve been squeezed a thousand times and that’s why they’ll have mushy brown spots when you open them.  Avocados are ripe when they give slightly to gentle pressure.  I have also found that when you remove the small dark stem from the top, if the color underneath is pale yellow, it’s ready!  Green means it’s underripe and brown or black means it’s going in the compost heap.  Once they are ripe, you can refrigerate them until you’re ready to eat them.  Keep in mind that the skin of Reed avocados stay perfectly green even when ripe, as opposed to Haas which turn dark brown/black.  And now the bad news.  Reed avocados are only in season from August through October so enjoy them while you can!

Avocado Toast with Tomato

Are you an avocado toast fan?  What’s your favorite combo?

avocado toast

There really isn’t a “recipe” for this, just a few of my favorite combinations.  I like a lot of avocado on my toast, but you may choose to have less.  Just go with whatever seems right to you.

Mashed or sliced avocado  on toasted or grilled bread with:

~a squeeze of lime, a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of red chili flakes and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt.

~thinly sliced smoked wild salmon or lox and a squeeze of fresh lemon.

~sliced ripe tomato with a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt.  A drizzle of olive oil is good, too.

~a drop of shoyu or good quality soy sauce, a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and a sprinkle of sesame seeds or gomasio.

~a fried egg and a pinch of salt.  A sprinkle of chopped chives is nice, too.

Mushroom and leek stuffing recipe

When I married my husband over 17 years ago (gasp!), I was more than excited to start hosting some of the holidays at our new home.  But I soon realized that my husband’s traditions were slightly different from the ones I grew up with, especially on Thanksgiving.  What?  No first course of pasta with marinara sauce?  Strange, I thought, but I could adapt!  My mother-in-law kindly shared with me the way things were done on the West Coast.  She liked to serve everyone a salad to start and plate the main dinner for each person in the kitchen.  Turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes and stuffing were all givens, and their stuffing of choice was Pepperidge Farm.  No problem!

My husband and I have hosted every Thanksgiving since 1996 and enjoy the comfort that develops when you do something over and over again.   I have since incorporated my own traditions like buffet – easier and much less waste – and soup to start.  About 6 years ago I decided to examine the ingredients on the seemingly innocuous bag of Pepperidge Farm stuffing.  Holy crap.  I couldn’t believe the garbage that went into breadcrumbs!  One thing I knew for certain was that Pepperidge Farm was uninvited to Thanksgiving…forever!

Actually, if it were up to me, I would drop stuffing from the menu altogether.  I really don’t get it.  With ALL the delicious food on the Thanksgiving table, many of the dishes starchy, we’re going to eat gussied up bread, a food we already overeat on every other day of the year??  I was trying to explain to my husband that mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and butternut squash are all starches, as is the obligatory cornbread.  We should balance out the meal with additional vegetables, like Brussels sprouts!  “You’re taking this health food thing a little too far.  The stuffing stays!”

Although I like to think of myself as the dictator of my kitchen empire, the director of Thanksgiving, I’m really a democratic leader.  I figured my only option was to create a delicious, higher quality stuffing that looked like Pepperidge Farm and tasted enough like it, but even better.  So here’s my take on a good classic stuffing that’s not too gourmet, in fact tastes very close to our old preservative-laden standby.    I usually make two for our dinner, one with mushrooms to suit me and one without for my hubby.

I’ve tried this stuffing with whole grain breads like whole wheat or spelt, but truthfully it tastes a little “wheat-y.”  There was a fantastic bread I used to buy from Whole Foods called Miche, which was a sourdough bread made of a blend of whole wheat and white flours.  That was about as whole grain as my family could take on Thanksgiving.  Truth be told,  I prefer to go down in our family history as the benevolent one who said, “ let them eat stuffing!”


5.0 from 1 reviews
Mushroom and Leek Stuffing
Author: 
Serves: 8-10 (although I make 2 for 24 people on Thanksgiving and it is plenty)
 
Ingredients
  • 1 ½ pounds rustic whole wheat or white bread, hard crust removed
  • 6 Tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ pound shiitake mushrooms, wiped clean, stems removed and discarded, caps sliced
  • ½ pound cremini mushrooms, wiped clean, quartered
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage or poultry seasoning or 2 teaspoons fresh sage, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt or 3 teaspoons if using unsalted stock
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3-4 cups chicken, turkey or vegetable stock (depending on if you like it wet or dry)
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small dice (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place bread in a food processor and process into large crumbs or cut into ½-inch dice. (I like to do a combination.) You should have 10 cups. Spread bread over 2 large shallow baking pans and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, stirring occasionally and switching position of pans halfway through baking, until completely dry, about 25 minutes. Transfer bread to a large bowl.
  3. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees and grease a 13x9-inch baking dish.
  4. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms, celery, onion, leeks, and garlic, and sauté, stirring occasionally until softened, 10 minutes.
  5. Stir in thyme, sage, parsley, salt and pepper. Add vegetables to bread, tossing to combine.
  6. Pour chicken broth over the bread mixture, tossing to coat evenly.
  7. Spread stuffing in a baking dish, dot with butter and cover tightly with foil. Bake in upper third of oven until heated through, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake stuffing until top is browned, 10 – 15 minutes more. Stuffing can also be baked in a well-greased 12-cup muffin tin.
Notes
Bread crumbs can be prepared several days in advance.
Vegetables can be chopped the day before.
Entire casserole can be prepared up to the point of baking the day before and refrigerated or frozen and then thawed and baked according to the directions.

 

Grilled panzanella recipe

We are alive and well on our European holiday, although I may need a vacation after we return home!  We met our friends in Berlin a few days ago and have been having the best time.   What a cool, interesting, beautiful and progressive city!  Daughter #1 announced she will be moving to Berlin after college.  First things first, Missy.   All the kids have been fantastic – really going with the flow.  At times, I felt like we were on an episode of Amazing Race, figuring out metro schedules and running to catch trains, deciphering maps, and trying to translate foreign languages.  The good thing is that we have generally been laughing our way through it all.  Our overnight train trip from Berlin to Munich last night was particularly memorable as it was a first for all to sleep in beds on a train.  Before you picture us on the Orient Express, think again!  It wasn’t nearly that glamourous, but certainly provided us with a few giggles and good stories to tell when we are back home again.  As I write this, we are on another train from Munich to Salzburg, Austria.

As far as eating a whole, unrefined diet, I threw in the towel back in Copenhagen.  It is terribly difficult to avoid European bread when it is so darn good.  Once I gave into bread, pasta/spatzle, pizza and pastries came after.  Something tells me Austria will offer more of the same.  Mr. Picky is enamored with game sausages and mustard and I had my first beer since college just for kicks.   One was enough and I would just as soon eat fried potatoes than drink another beer.  We have really eaten a broad mix of cuisines which I think you’ll find in most major cities.

I will not start a war here by declaring the bread best in any particular city or country, but I can say that Europeans love bread.  We’ve eaten baguettes, spelt rolls, pretzel bread, whole rye, sourdough and more.  I also know that Europeans like to be efficient with their food and make good use of day old bread which might be otherwise thrown away.  I thought today would be a good time to share my recipe for Grilled Panzanella.

Panzanella is essentially an Italian bread salad, although I believe Spain has its own version of it, too.  Earlier in the summer, I also did a post on Fattoush, which is a Lebanese take on the same.  Sometimes it can be as simple as soaking stale bread in a mixture of vinegar and water and mixing it with fresh tomatoes and a pinch of salt.  When I was growing up, we would tear the stale bread and mix it with tomatoes from the garden, basil, red onions, olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper.  The stale bread would soak up the oil, vinegar and tomato juices and soften up a bit, too – really tasty.

I don’t eat bread very often, but if you grill it, I’ll never turn it down, especially if it’s rubbed with garlic and the edges are slightly black and smoky.  Simple and heavenly.  Try rubbing grilled bread with a cut, ripe tomato and you’ll go crazy.  In as much as I love a simple panzanella in the summer, I knew it would be better with grilled bread and it is!  Ina Garten has a Grilled Panzanella which I hear is delicious.  Not only does she grill the bread, but onions and peppers as well.

This salad is a snap to make and prep in advance if you need to, just keep the bread, chopped vegetables and dressing separate until you’re ready to serve.  Although most Italians would disagree with me, I think you should feel free to create your own yummy version of Panzanella.  I added capers to this one because I love a salty bite, but olives would be great, too.  There are versions with ripe, sliced peaches.  I also think baby mozzarella balls or chickpeas would also be nice in here, but try and keep it simple.

Our train has just entered Austria and we are already enamored of this beautiful countryside and all the adventures that await us.  Stay tuned….

Grilled Panzanella
Author: 
Serves: 6
 
Ingredients
  • ½ cup unrefined extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing bread
  • 1 large clove of garlic, minced + 1 large clove
  • 4 Tablespoons of raw apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar (raw apple cider vinegar is a more healthful choice)
  • fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 Persian cucumbers, unpeeled and chopped into ½-inch thick chunks
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes (about ½ pound each)
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 6 Tablespoons capers, drained
  • 2 shallots, sliced
  • ½ pound loaf or crusty peasant bread or baguette, cut on the diagonal into 1-inch slices
Instructions
  1. Preheat the grill to medium heat.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, minced garlic, vinegar, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Set aside.
  3. Place the cucumbers, tomato, basil, capers, and shallots in a large bowl. Sprinkle with large pinch of salt and pepper.
  4. Brush bread slices on both sides with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Toast them on the grill until golden, about 4 minutes on each side. A little black char on the edges is good! Cut a thin slice off the garlic clove and rub one side of each piece of bread with the cut side of the garlic.
  5. Cut the bread into cubes and add to the cucumber mixture. Pour in the vinaigrette and toss to combine.

 

Grilled broccolini with lemon-parmesan breadcrumbs recipe

Every food magazine seems to be offering an entire grilling issue this month and for good reason.  In most parts of the country, summer is “the” season for outdoor cooking and grilling is an easy and tasty way to prepare a wide variety of foods we love.  If you’ve been hanging out at this site for a bit, you probably know that I’m not so fond of grilling animal protein too often since it can be carcinogenic.  Since this is not the case for other foods, I will, however, grill just about anything else from vegetables and fruit to potatoes and pizzas.

Although many of my students ask me for new ways to prepare chicken and fish, I tend to keep the animal protein simple and focus on interesting ways to cook my favorite food group, vegetables.  And I am always on the lookout for interesting, new vegetables to cook.  Enter broccolini!  I had never heard of broccolini until probably six or seven years ago, although it has been around since about 1998.  It is sometimes referred to as “Baby Broccoli,” “Chinese Kale” or the very appetizing name “Aspiration” (Who in the world came up with that one?  Certainly no one with picky kids.)  Broccolini is technically a hybrid between regular broccoli and Chinese kale, but it has a more tender stem and sweeter flavor than both.  Some people think it tastes like a cross between asparagus and broccoli and that seems pretty accurate to me.  However you call it, we love, love, love it!

Broccolini and all its cruciferous cousins are vegetables you want to include regularly in the meal rotation since they are nutritional powerhouses with lots of anti-cancer compounds.  We eat a lot of broccolini and broccoli, so I am all about mixing it up a bit so we don’t get bored with the same old, same old.  Broccolini is just made for the grill.  Its tender stems cook as quickly as asparagus do and the grill adds a fabulous charred flavor to the florets.  Normal broccoli tastes fabulous on the grill too, but you have to slice the thick stems in order for it to cook properly and then it looks a little awkward.

This is hardly a recipe and at its simplest you just coat the broccolini in olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and pepper and grill few minutes on each side.  The only trick is to avoid burning the florets which is possible if you just stay at the grill the whole time and don’t leave to check your email.  Done.  This is super easy for weeknights and cool enough to serve to your foodie friends.  If a simply grilled vegetable isn’t sophisticated enough for you, you can brush the cut side of a couple lemons with olive oil and grill them cut-side down for a few minutes to squeeze on the broccolini with or without a dusting of Parmesan cheese.  Or, make these ridiculously addictive Lemon-Parmesan Breadcrumbs which are so good on these broccolini as well as grilled asparagus, pasta, roasted cherry tomatoes and just about a hundred other things.  I have successfully used many different gluten-free breads to make them, used Pecorino (sheep cheese) instead of Parmesan (cow), and eliminated the cheese altogether.  I’ve heard the saying, “you can’t make everyone happy.”  I’m not so sure about that!

Grilled Broccolini with Lemon-Parmesan Breadcrumbs
Author: 
Serves: 6
 
Ingredients
  • 2 bunches broccolini, washed, dried, dry ends trimmed (about 1 pound)
  • Unrefined olive oil for drizzling the broccolini + 2 Tablespoons
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • A few slices of fresh bread or a roll, but nothing too “flavored,” hard crusts removed
  • 3 Tablespoons grated Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano cheese
  • Zest of 1 small lemon
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and cut in half
Instructions
  1. Preheat a grill over medium heat. Too hot and the florets will burn. Not hot enough and you won’t get a char.
  2. Drizzle the broccolini with oil and toss with your hands until they’re evenly coated. (I put them on a sheet pan.) Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Make the breadcrumbs: cut the bread into cubes and place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process into crumbs. Measure 1 cup of crumbs.
  4. In a small bowl, combine crumbs with Parmesan, lemon zest and a pinch of salt.
  5. Heat 2 Tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the breadcrumb mixture and the garlic. Toast the breadcrumbs, stirring frequently until they start to turn golden brown, like toast. Carefully taste the breadcrumbs to make sure they’re crunchy, but don’t burn your mouth doing it. When they’re done, immediately transfer to a bowl, otherwise they’ll burn sitting in the pan. Remove garlic and discard.
  6. Place broccolini on the grill and cook until tender, but slightly charred, about 3 minutes. Flip over and cook the other side another 3 minutes. Be careful not to burn the broccolini. Place on a platter and scatter the breadcrumbs on top or serve separately.
Notes
You can skip the breadcrumbs and serve instead with lemon wedges and/or shaved or grated Parmesan.

Spinach and feta strata

You know I’m a fan of the do-ahead breakfast for busy (and early) weekday mornings.  But holidays and weekend brunches are also the perfect time to prepare a fabulous breakfast the night before.  On Christmas morning, the kids love to come down in their pj’s and see what Santa left for them and I don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen missing out on all the “oohs” and “ahhs.”  It’s also a great feeling to be able to relax after a late night of Christmas Eve revelry and still put a hot breakfast on the table for everyone.  Breakfast strata to the rescue!

A strata is technically a layered casserole, which mine is not since I just mix everything together in a bowl and pour it into a casserole dish.  This recipe is more of a savory bread pudding to which I add lots of spinach and in the summertime, ripe tomatoes.  In my quest for efficiency in the kitchen, I love stratas for using up stale bread and leftover vegetables from last night’s dinner.  In these photos I used a multi-seeded bread, which is not the norm for me, but we loved it.  Usually I buy a whole spelt bread from Le Pain Quotidien or a rustic whole grain bread from Whole Foods.  As for vegetables, you can add anything you would put in a frittata.  No spinach?  No problem!  Take those roasted or sauteed vegetables from last night and add them here.   I’ve used broccoli, cauliflower, every leafy green there is, mushrooms, zucchini and cherry tomatoes.  A couple of pieces of cooked turkey bacon or sausage links sitting in the fridge?  They’re welcome in this strata.

I’ve made a gluten-free strata with gluten-free bread and I’ve also made it dairy-free with hemp milk and a cashew-based cheese.  Sadly, I haven’t figured out a substitute for the eggs for those with egg allergies.  Don’t be afraid to freeze this, either.  Provided you freeze the strata well-wrapped, it will taste exactly the same.  We had about 50 people over for brunch the morning after my daughter’s bat mitzvah, and I had made and frozen several stratas 2 weeks earlier.  It was such a gift to myself to just pop them in the oven the morning of and not to have to cook, especially since I couldn’t walk from dancing all night.  So whether you’ve been “partying” at the shopping mall for the last few weeks or you’re just cooked out, give yourself and your loved ones this one last gift.

Merry Christmas to all of you celebrating!

Spinach and Feta Strata
Author: 
Serves: 8 or you can make 16 mini-stratas in a muffin tin or ramekins
 
Ingredients
  • 2 Tablespoons unrefined, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 10 ounces fresh spinach leaves
  • 8 large eggs
  • 2 ½ cups whole milk or plain, unsweetened hemp milk
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground pepper
  • 6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 2 large tomatoes (when in season), seeded (if desired) and diced
  • 8 cups of whole wheat, spelt or sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (I used Whole Foods' "Seeduction" bread here)
  • Butter or olive oil for greasing baking dish
Instructions
  1. Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 4-5 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until wilted, a few more minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the milk, sea salt and pepper. Stir in the cheeses, tomato (if using), bread and spinach-onion mixture.
  3. Lightly grease a 13 x 9 –inch baking dish and pour the strata mixture into the dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Uncover baking dish and bake for 45-55 minutes or until egg mixture is set and top is golden brown.
Notes
Can be frozen if wrapped tightly. Thaw in the refrigerator before baking. I’ve done it and you can’t tell at all that it’s been frozen.

MINI-STRATAS: grease 16 individual ramekins or muffin tins. First layer bread, then vegetables and cheese. Last, pour beaten eggs mixed with milk, salt and pepper on top. Bake for 25-30 minutes.