As is my (Rachel’s) Capricornian wont, Thanksgiving’s menu and grocery lists have been finalized for like a month. The meticulous color-coded spreadsheet that cross references guest lists for allergies and dietary restrictions with conditional formatting and automatically generates a comprehensive grocery list with vlookups is one the most satisfying things I do all year. One of the spreadsheet tabs is a calendar that breaks down Thanksgiving day hour-by hour, and schedules everything that needs to get done. More than just “basics” like what time the oven should change to be the right temperature for the biscuits and when we should start plating the cranberry mostarda, it also schedules the most important task of the entire day: Breakfast.
Yes. This level of aggressive organization is over the top, I know– equal parts indoctrination from years of being the only organized person at Chicago tech start-ups and overcompensation for a chaotic childhood/my own mortality. But. I’m dead fucking serious about breakfast being the most important part of Thanksgiving day. And if it’s not on my schedule, it doesn’t get done.
Too many people make the tragic error of not eating to “save room” for the big feast or finding themselves too busy to nosh. Not only does skipping the meal give you the kind of unstable blood sugar and foggy headedness that leads to burnt biscuits and scorched potatoes, it also makes your stomach shrink so you can’t cram in extra gravy. So I always make sure I have a hearty, early breakfast with enough fiber, protein, and fats to keep me going until the turkey hits the table.
This year, I’m repurposing lots of my early, meticulous prep work to make a Strata. Moursels of seedy, crusty, whole grain bread from my stuffing are saturated with a savory custard and layered with goodies. Repurposed sauteed aromatics and greens, gruyere, and sausage, originally destined for other sides, and big chunks of kabocha squash (that will soon become a bourboned squash sabayon for a gateaux basque) transform what are little more than scraps into a nutrient-dense, craveable meal.
Use this recipe as a template; so long as you stick to the bread-to-stuff-to-custard ratio, you can go wild with veggies and cheeses and make this meal your own. Best of all? The flavors and textures seriously benefit from an overnight hang in the fridge. Make it the night before and stick it in the oven while it preheats for the day’s work.
- 2 tbsp Butter
- 6-8 cups of hearty Bread, cut into bite-size cubes– we love Whole Foods’ Seeduction Bread or one of Ezekiel's sprouted hippie dippy loafs
- 1 Onion, diced and caramelized
- 1-2 cups sauteed Greens
- 2 cups Roasted Squash, cut into bite-size cubes
- 1lb cooked Sausage– ground is what we used, but sliced links are fine
- 3 cups of Cheese, we like Gruyere or Swiss, but Cheddar, Fontina, or any other melty cheese is nice
- 6 Eggs
- 3 cups Whole Milk– if you only have a lower fat content milk, swap ½ cup for heavy cream or half and half. Fat is your friend, friends, especially in custardy Stratas
- 2-3 tbsp of whatever Herbs you have on hand, chopped
- ½ tsp Salt
- Preheat your oven to 375°.
- Butter a deep casserole or oven-safe pan and layer in ⅓ of your Bread cubes. Top with ⅓ of your Onions, Greens, Squash, and Sausage and 1 cup of Cheese. Layer ½ of the remaining bread cubes, followed by ½ of the Onions, Greens, Squash, and Sausage, and another cup of Cheese. Round things out with the last of the Bread, followed by the rest of the Veg/Sausage but reserve the final cup of Cheese for a little later.
- Whisk or Blend together the Eggs, Milk, Herbs, and Salt. Pour over the Strata slowly. It might look like it will bubble over but, we promise, the Bread will hold all of this liquid. Cover with foil (stop here and chill overnight if you’re the advanced-prep sort) and bake covered for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes are up, top with the remaining 1 cup of Cheese and bake uncovered until bubbly and golden brown– and a knife inserted into the center of the Strata comes out warm to the touch. Serve with runny eggs if you’re an overachiever, or too much coffee if you’re already behind schedule.