On the weekends, we cook. We start with brunch, then have a late lunch, and an even later dinner. It’s usually a smaller group of us and we get our ingredients from the market, which means straight-from-the-dirt veggies, crisp rotisserie chicken, and fresh ricotta cheese.
One of the last weekends we were in Valledolmo, Natalie made us strada. It was beautiful and hearty and comforting, a lot like Natalie herself, actually.
Natalie comes from a farming family in Nebraska. She studied horticulture at UNL and took her passion for producers and the land to Kansas after she got married. She writes grants, tracks policy developments at the state and federal level, and sets up programs to support farmers across the state, especially if they’re going organic or growing non-commodity crops. She’s thoughtful and thorough.
She is also the kind of person you want with you when your rental car gets stuck on a muddy road in the middle of a snowstorm at night, a person who will get out of the car in her best outfit and help push said car out. And day to day, someone who never complains about hard work and the strain of school. Like I said, beautiful, hearty, and comforting.
The dish she made us was adapted from the Taste of Home cookbook, which someone gave her years ago as a wedding gift. She likes to use whatever veggies she has on hand, sausage (pre-fried) if she has it, or even bacon. On this particular morning, she went for straight veggies and mixed bread types for the cubes based on what was leftover. It was wonderful. Natalie also loves it for serving overnight guests — easy to assemble the night before and stick in the oven for breakfast or brunch.
Natalie’s Perfect Strata for the Weekend
Takes 2 hours prep and baking time, plus overnight for marination.
1 onion, diced
1 red pepper, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 c. milk
8-9 slices of bread, cubed (Natalie used different bread that was left which added a lovely mix of textures in the baked dish)
Handful of parsley (4-5 stalks of leaves, chopped)
Handful of fresh arugula for topping
~1 c. Parmesan cheese grated (Natalie says she also uses cheddar, really depends on what’s in the fridge)
Salt and pepper to taste
Frying pan to prep veggies
9 inch baking dish
1. Prep your veggies the night before: Heat the olive oil, fry the onions until they are soft, then add your other veggies roughly chopped (hold the chopped parsley apart from the veggies, do not cook).
2. Meanwhile, prep your eggs: Whisk your eggs in a big bowl and add milk. When the veggies are soft and fragrant, take them off heat and let them cool.
3. Prep your bread: Chop or crumble your bread into cubes or large crumbs, and add to egg and milk mixture.
4. Add your veggies (once they are cool) to the whole mixture, stir in parsley and half the cheese, refrigerate the rest for baking.
5. Grease your baking pan and pour your mixture in to soak overnight. Top with aluminum foil.
6. The next morning, preheat the oven to 400 F.
7. Bake the strata for 35 minutes under foil. After 35 minutes, remove the strata, take off the aluminum foil, and add the rest of the cheese.
8. Bake for another 10 minutes.
9. Let cool and garnich slices with arugula.
Thanks, Natalie. And bon appetito, tutti!
Some of our group at the Lombard Castle in Enna. Natalie is 2nd from the left.