Smoked salmon, caper and goat’s cheese strata
There’s no denying that this dish is rather rich, but every so often I make it as a treat because it tastes so very, very good, and smoked salmon and fennel happen to be one of my favourite food combinations. We last ate this for Easter brunch and it disappeared in an alarmingly short space of time with many happily murmured ‘mms’ and ‘mmm…hmms’ – just the thing a cook loves to hear. But brunch aside, it also works brilliantly as a lunch or supper dish, especially because it’s only better for being assembled the night before you need it, so all you have to do the next day is pop it in the oven.
2 ½ cups (625 ml) milk
Good pinch freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
2 ½ tablespoons finely chopped dill
220g good Turkish-style pide bread, cut into 1.5cm chunks
120g soft goat’s cheese marinated in olive oil and herbs, roughly crushed
100g cheddar (or tasty) cheese, grated
2 tablespoons capers
100g smoked salmon, sliced into fine strips
tiny dill sprigs, to garnish
lemon wedges, to serve
Butter a medium-sized, deep-ish gratin dish (the one I use is 23 cm x 16 cm x 6 cm) and set aside.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl with a balloon whisk to break them up, then thoroughly whisk in the milk, nutmeg, mustard, and 1 tablespoon each of the chopped chives and dill. Set this custard mixture aside.
Spread half the bread chunks over the base of the prepared dish. Now scatter half the goat’s cheese and half the Cheddar (or tasty cheese) evenly over the bread. Sprinkle the cheeses with 1½ tablespoons of the capers and half the remaining chives and dill. As best you can as they tend to stick together, strew the smoked salmon strips evenly over the herbs. Now scatter the remaining goat’s cheese, cheddar, dill and chives over the salmon. Spread the remaining bread chunks in an even layer over the top.
Give the egg mixture a good whisk as it will have settled a bit, then trickle it over the strata. Press gently down on the bread layer so the milk mixture soaks into it, then scatter the remaining capers over the top. Cover the dish tightly and refrigerate it for at least 4 hours, or better still, overnight.
When you’re ready to cook the strata, preheat your oven to 175C.
Bake the strata for 70-80 minutes, or until it has puffed up and browned. Keep an eye on it as it cooks, and once the top is deep golden-brown, cover it loosely with foil to stop it darkening any further. To check if it’s ready, insert a slim-bladed knife into the centre and take a peek, the edges of the cut should be softly set; if not give it a little longer then check again.
You can serve the strata immediately it’s ready while it’s puffed up, however although it sinks somewhat, I think the flavour is better when it’s a little cooler. Scatter the top with dill sprigs, and slice or scoop it out of the dish. Serve the lemon wedges.