The scent of sage and freshly brewed coffee fills the morning air. It’s still early, but there is already an intoxicating buzz of excitement in the house. Someone quietly glides around the kitchen in slippers as the dog lets out a loud bark in hopes of swiftly waking everyone else.
It is Thanksgiving morning, one of my favorite moments of the year. As people begin to awaken and slowly make their way downstairs, the cooking, laughter, and day of laziness begins.
Anything goes with my family on Thanksgiving. In anticipation of a food-induced comatose state later that day, many people opt to fuel themselves solely on coffee until the main event. Others, like me, need a steady stream of sustenance to make it through the marathon day of cooking and eating.
This savory bread casserole (strata: literally, “layers”) is hearty enough to prepare you for the day ahead, and must be made the night before to allow the bread to soak up the creamy milk, egg and herb mixture. All you need to do in the morning is preheat the oven and pop it in for an hour.
The result is golden, fluffy brunch goodness giving you, yet another, reason to be thankful.
- 3 pounds sweet dumpling squash (any winter squash variety may be used)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for greasing the dish
- 2 tablespoons dried sage
- 1 pound Italian bread, sliced into 1-inch cubes (crust removed or left intact)*
- 1 cup yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup grated Gruyère cheese
- 8 large eggs
- 4 cups milk
- Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
* Some gluten-free bread also works really well here. I used Udi’s Whole Grain bread with excellent results.
Preheat the oven to 400° F. Slice each squash in half and remove the seeds. Drizzle squash with about ½ tablespoon olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper. Place flesh side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes, or until soft when pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Once cool, scoop the flesh into a medium glass bowl and roughly mash with the back of a fork. Add 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil and 1 ½ tablespoons dried sage and mix to combine. Re-season with salt and pepper, if needed.
Grease a 9×13 inch baking dish and arrange half of the bread in the bottom of the dish. Add half of the squash mixture, half of the onions and half of both cheeses. Repeat with remaining layer of bread and onions, reserving the remaining cheese for the top.
In a large glass bowl, whisk the eggs and milk and season with salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture over the bread and squash layers. Top with the remaining cheese and ½ tablespoon dried sage. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
In the morning, remove the strata from the refrigerator about 25-30 minutes before baking to bring to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350° F and bake uncovered for about 60-70 minutes or until golden, fluffy and a knife inserted into center comes out clean.
Allow to stand for about 20 minutes before serving + enjoy!