Plus you get to use up all your leftovers

By Stacey Ballis
Updated April 05, 2018
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Credit: Photo by Stacey Ballis

The legendary wine importer Terry Theise has reportedly said on many occasions “I like foie gras and I like Fritos, but I don’t confuse the reasons why.” Delicious is delicious. So yes, I have in my arsenal of recipes an elegant strata full of homemade sourdough bread croutons and fresh baby spinach sautéed in shallot and butter, and aged gruyère cheese.

Garbage strata is not that strata.

This is a strata that embraces and celebrates one of my less fancy pleasures: the perfect grilled cheese. My philosophy is simple. The bread must be white with a soft crust. The butter must be room temperature and salted. And the cheese must be sliced deli American. I do not quibble about white or yellow cheese, and yes, I have done them with mayo instead of butter, so those details are not particularly sacred to me. But while I will happily scarf down artisanal whole grain slathered with fig jam and covered in Emmenthal and prosciutto and arugula and griddled to crispy perfection, it is not a grilled cheese sandwich. It is a grilled sandwich with cheese on it.

One of my favorite memories of camp were rainy days because for lunch there would be vats of sweet, creamy tomato soup and platters piled high with grilled cheese sandwiches so you could eat as many of those golden-brown suckers as you want. The problem is that leftover grilled cheese is a bit sad. It doesn’t taste good cold, the bread loses its crisp, the cheese becomes a thin plastic veneer, and methods of reheating fall short.

Credit: Photo by Stacey Ballis

That's why I came up with the garbage strata. If a regular strata is just buttery toasted croutons mixed with cheese and other savory morsels and covered in custard to bake, leftover grilled cheese means you are two thirds of the way there before you’ve even had caffeine. Eight leftover grilled cheese sandwiches, cubed, tossed with some other fun stuff you might have lying about the fridge, and soaked in a light egg custard means you can spontaneously feed a crowd, or just take the pan to bed with a fork and the remote and have a nice quiet lazy morning. Or afternoon.

It won’t be the foie gras of stratas, but it will be appealing in a Frito-esque way. And the beauty is, we get to like them both.

Garbage Strata

Ingredients

8 leftover grilled cheese sandwiches, cooled and cut or torn into one-inch pieces
1 cup of mix-ins of your choice, I used leftover cooked breakfast sausages, but crumbled bacon or ham cubes are great, as are leftover chopped cooked vegetables
2 3/4 cups milk
9 large eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Directions

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Butter or spray a 9x13 inch baking dish, and cover the bottom with the grilled cheese pieces. Scatter your mix-ins over the grilled cheese cubes.

2. In a medium bowl whisk the eggs with the milk and mustard till well blended, and pour over the cubed sandwiches.

3. Bake for about 45 minutes until the strata is puffed and the top is browned. Serve hot.