This Season’s Asparagus and Spring Allium Strata

Cheesy asparagus strata with a bevy of spring onions and spring garlic.
Cheesy asparagus strata with a bevy of spring onions and spring garlic.

“Asparagus and Spring Allium Strata” combines my three most favorite spring ingredients:

Green garlic or young garlic with their Fabio-like, long, flowing green tops, no papery skins, and a fresher, sweeter flavor.

Spring onions or immature onions with their small, compact, and tender bulbs that boast a milder flavor.

And of course, asparagus. When I can find them, I always go for the thick stalks because they cook up more tender with a more robust taste, too.

If you’re new to stratas, just think of them as a savory bread pudding — perfect for brunch, lunch or dinner. It’s just toasted or day-old bread saturated with an eggy custard mixture much like making French toast, then layered in a baking dish with vegetables, cheese and other ingredients.

This delicious version is from “The Vegetable Eater” (Workman Publishing), of which I received a review copy. It was written by Cara Mangini, a San Francisco chef and creator of Little Eater, a produce-inspired company that offers catering and weekly meal-service delivery, and opened a number of locally sourced restaurants in Columbus, OH. She was named one of the top 50 plant-forward chefs in the world by the Culinary Institute of America and the EAT foundation.

The cookbook is filled with more than 100 vibrant recipes (with handy seasonal variations for each one) that put the spotlight squarely on vegetables and how to effortlessly incorporate more of them in your everyday cooking.

(Left to right): spring onions, spring garlic, and asparagus.
(Left to right): spring onions, spring garlic, and asparagus.

Take a taste of “Drive-Through-Style Mushroom-Lentil Cheeseburgers with Secret Sauce,” “Coconut-Cauliflower Tacos with Creamy Apple-Cabbage Slaw,” “Creamy (No-Cream) Fennel Alfredo Sauce with Bucatini” (thanks to a whipped sauce of cooked fennel, shallot, garlic, and cashews), and “Parsnip Morning Glory Muffins.”

Assembling the strata.
Assembling the strata.

For this strata, toasted French bread slices get layered in a baking dish with asparagus, green garlic, spring onions, and scallions, all sauteed with butter, a splash of white wine, and snipped fresh tarragon. I actually used thyme instead, as that’s what I had on hand. After adding the vegetables, top with grated fontina cheese. Repeat once more with each of those layers. When done, drench everything in a mixture of six eggs whisked with plenty of half-and-half.

At this point, you can weight down the ingredients with cans on top to speed up the bread soaking process if you want to enjoy the strata in a couple hours. Or you can take the option that I did, which is to refrigerate the strata overnight instead.

Delicious all on its own, or served with a green salad, or as a side dish.
Delicious all on its own, or served with a green salad, or as a side dish.

The next day, after letting it come to room temperature for 20 minutes, slide it into the oven until it’s hot and puffed up. The recipe stated a baking time of 45 to 55 minutes. Mine took more like 60 to 65 minutes, so just be aware that yours might take a little longer, especially if it chilled overnight.

When it emerges, the cheese will have melted beautifully on top, vibrant bits of green will have poked through, and the layers will have almost coalesced into one for a look akin to a quiche.

The strata will be custardy and rich in eggy flavor. And the taste will be of pure spring.

Fluffy, eggy, custardy, and loaded with goodness.
Fluffy, eggy, custardy, and loaded with goodness.

Asparagus and Spring Allium Strata

(Serves 4 to 8)

6 to 7 slices white French bread (or sourdough bread)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup chopped green garlic (2 to 3 small heads, trimmed and finely chopped) or 1 large garlic clove, minced

1 cup sliced spring onions (2 to 3 small bulbs) or shallots

1/2 cup chopped scallions

1 pound asparagus, woody ends snapped off, cut into 1/4-inch coins or 1/2-inch pieces

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or thyme

6 large eggs

2 cups half-and-half

4 ounces fontina cheese, coarsely grated or 4 ounces Gruyere or 2 loosely packed cups of sharp white cheddar

Heat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. Place the bread slices in a single layer on a sheet pan. If needed, tear a slice or two in half to fit the pan. Toast the bread for 10 to 12 minutes until it is dried out and mostly crisp. Pull the pan from the oven and let the bread continue to dry out as it cools.

In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the garlic, spring onions, and scallions. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 1 minute until well incorporated and fragrant. Stir in the asparagus, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes until the asparagus is crisp-tender. Add the wine, turn up the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes until the wine cooks off and the pan is dry. Stir in the tarragon. Remove the pan from the heat; let stand.

Whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon of pepper. Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Place 3 1/2 to 4 pieces of bread on the bottom of the dish, overlapping slightly in places if needed or breaking apart the bread to fit in one layer to cover completely.

Scatter half of the asparagus mixture over the top (about 1 cup). Follow with about half of the cheese. Repeat with the remaining bread, then asparagus mixture, then the remaining cheese. Evenly pour the egg mixture over the top and in between gaps. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and gently push down on the top to help encourage the bread to soak up the custard. If you would like to bake as soon as possible, let the strata stand for 20 to 40 minutes with four full cans of food (or something else) to weight it down and encourage soaking. Alternatively, refrigerate the strata overnight.

To bake the strata, heat the oven to 325°F with a rack in the middle position. Uncover the strata. (If the strata was refrigerated, let it stand at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes.) Bake for 45 to 55 minutes (or possibly 5 to 10 minutes longer if the strata was refrigerated) until puffed up, cooked through in the middle, and golden brown in places. Transfer the strata to a cooling rack and let stand for at least 5 minutes before cutting into pieces to serve.

Adapted from “The Vegetable Eater” by Cara Mangini

More Asparagus Recipes to Enjoy: Asparagus with Scrambled Egg Scattered Sushi

And: Spicy Ground Pork with Ginger, Lime, Peppers and Asparagus

And: Shaved Asparagus Salad with Asparagus Buttermilk Dressing and Pickled Asparagus Tips

And: Asparagus Fry with Mustard Seeds and Coconut

And: Asparagus Pastry Straws

And: Asparagus Wrapped In Bacon

And: Roasted Asparagus Gratin

And: Simmered Asparagus with Orange and Mint

And: Roasted Asparagus Soup with Pistachio Cream

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