Spinach & Cheese Strata

Put this week’s bread loaf to good use with this spinach-kissed breakfast strata.

Ingredients:
10 ounces spinach, washed
1½ cups finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 cups cubed Pain au Levain bread
2 cups grated Gruyère cheese
1 cup finely grated Grana-style cheese
2¾ cups milk
9 large eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Method:
1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Add the spinach and cook, stirring constantly, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a colander and drain, pressing with a rubber spatula to release as much liquid as possible.
2. Cook onion in butter in a large heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and nutmeg and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in spinach, then remove from heat.

3. Spread one third of bread cubes in a buttered 3-quart gratin dish or other shallow ceramic baking dish and top evenly with one third of spinach mixture. Sprinkle with one third of each cheese. Repeat layering twice (ending with cheeses).

4. Whisk together milk, eggs, mustard, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl and pour evenly over strata. Chill strata, covered with plastic wrap, at least 8 hours (for bread to absorb custard).

5. Preheat oven to 350°F. Let strata stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Bake strata, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 45 to 55 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Grilled Bread with Basil Pesto

A wonderful appetizer to serve with this week’s pasta supper!

Ingredients:
2 cups basil leaves
½ cup toasted pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
½ cup grated Grana-style cheese
½ cup olive oil, plus more for brushing
Pain au Levain bread, sliced into ¼-inch-thick pieces
Sea salt

Method:
1. In a food processor, combine the basil, pine nuts, garlic, cheese and salt. Process until the ingredients are roughly chopped. With the processor running, gradually drizzle in the olive oil until you have a chunky pesto. Set aside.

2. Heat the grill. Lightly brush each slice of bread with olive oil on both sides. Grill the slices a minute or two per side until they are crusty and have charred grill marks but are still soft in the middle. Spread each slice with a generous helping of pesto.

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Summer Ribollita

Inspired by a recipe found in the Lark: Cooking Against the Grain cookbook, this ribollita celebrates the beautiful vegetables of summer.

Ingredients:
1 cup summer squash, cut into ½-inch dice
1 cup tomatoes, cored and cut into ½-inch dice
¼ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup green beans, trimmed and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 cup rainbow Swiss chard, stems removed and leaves cut into 2-inch strips
½ jarred cooked cannellini beans, drained of brine
2 slices of day-old bread, lightly toasted and torn into bite-size pieces
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup yellow onion, peeled and diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
¼ cup dry white wine
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons torn basil leaves, for finishing
Pistou (see recipe)

Method:
1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook until lightly golden, about 7-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until softened but not brown. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to maintain a simmer and let wine reduce slightly, 1-2 minutes.

2. Add the summer squash, all the tomatoes and green beans. Stir in the bread pieces, kale and the cannellini beans.

3. Add the 4 cups of chicken stock and then season the soup to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to maintain a simmer. Simmer until vegetables are tender, about 10-15 minutes.

4. To serve, stir 3 tablespoons of the pistou sauce into the ribollita and immediately ladle into serving bowls. Sprinkle the basil over the ribollita and then add a healthy grating of Grana-style cheese. Serve with the additional pistou on the side.

Sourdough Focaccia

Top this airy bread with fresh herbs and Parmesan cheese; Kalamata olives; or simply with coarse sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

Ingredients:
1⅓ cups sourdough starter
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup olive oil, plus additional for brushing on top
2 teaspoons sugar
¾ teaspoon salt

Method:
1. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, kneading in the flour ½ cup at a time. Allow dough to rise in a warm place until it doubles in size (this should take about 45 minutes), then punch it back down and allow it to rest for an additional 10 minutes.

2. Transfer dough to a lightly-floured surface and then roll out into a 9-by-6-inch oval (dough should be about 1-inch thick). Transfer to a baking sheet and then dimple the surface of the dough with your thumb. Brush lightly with the additional olive oil, allowing the oil to pool in the dimples, then add any desired toppings.

3. Allow the dough to puff up again and then back in a 450° oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and slice into large wedges to serve.

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