Anytime you need to feed a crowd before noon, bring out this breakfast strata with pancetta and caramelized onions. With bread, eggs, meat, cheese, and a simple seasoning blend all baked into one package, it’s savory, hearty, and full of flavor. Best of all, 99% of the work is done the night before!
As much as I love dinner, drinks, and dessert, breakfast and brunch win top honors for my very favorite meals to share with friends. Starting off the day with good company, shared cups of coffee, and possibly a mimosa just makes everything seem bright and cheery with the world. After such a brunch, the day feels like a success, pretty much no matter what.
Plus, obviously, this is a chance to enjoy more breakfast and brunch-y foods, which is bound to make everyone happy.
Although I have only made this strata a couple of times, it’s instantly achieved star status in my house, so I couldn’t wait to share it here – and write down the recipe properly, so I can be sure to remember it myself. 🙂
So, what gives a humble strata star status? Well, as I sat down to think about it, I realized that every single person who has tried this has asked for the recipe. That’s a pretty good indicator, no? Plus, just reflect on the ingredients: Crusty bread. Baked eggs. Thick-cut pancetta. Onions sweetly caramelized to soften and highlight their best flavor. Thyme, mustard, and a pinch of nutmeg. And grated Gruyère cheese scattered liberally over the entire thing.
Moreover, as with most stratas, the heavy lifting is done the night before. In the morning, all your sleepy self needs to manage is taking the baking dish out of the fridge and popping it into the warm oven. I’m pretty sure I could even manage that pre-coffee. If I really had to.
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How to Make Breakfast Strata with Pancetta and Caramelized Onions
In essence, a strata is a layered casserole. (The word literally means layers, and can be equally applied to geology or breakfast, though I of course know far more about the latter.) So most of your work will go into preparing the components of each layer – the actual assembly is so easy.
First, cube some old, crusty bread. Challah or French bread would be especially delicious, but I have used regular old sandwich bread and been happy. Next you’ll crisp the pancetta, then caramelize the onions in the same pan.
Side note: Other cooking geeks may enjoy this entertainingly disgruntled article by Tom Scocca on why recipe writers habitually lowball the time required to properly caramelize onions. In a concerted effort not to be one of those recipe writers, I will level with you here – it’s going to take about 20 minutes to get the lightly brown, heavily delicious caramel action on your onions you want and deserve for this recipe. As I am usually making this strata the night before a big breakfast or brunch, investing this time isn’t a major nuisance; the onions only need to be stirred occasionally while they cook.
While you wait for the onions to caramelize, prepare the egg mixture and grate the cheese. Now it’s just a matter of spreading it all in layers on top of the bread, and popping it in the fridge for all the flavors and textures to meld perfectly overnight.
One final note – this makes a truly enormous amount of food. If you’re not feeding a crowd, the recipe halves quite easily, and can be baked at the same temperature in an 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ square pan. If you do this, I would suggest checking for doneness around 30 minutes. It may still need more time, but better safe than sorry!
More Breakfast Recipes to Try:
- Glazed Grapefruit Bundt Cake
- Peanut Butter Pumpkin Oat Breakfast Bars
- Mini Frittatas with Chorizo and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- Frittata with Spinach, Gouda, and Parmesan
- Five-Banana Banana Bread
Let me know if you’ve tried this breakfast strata or any other recipe on the blog, and then let me know how it went in the comments below, and don’t forget to rate the recipe. I love hearing from you!
Breakfast Strata with Pancetta and Caramelized Onions
- 8 cups day-old bread cut into 3/4-inch cubes and loosely-packed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 12 ounces thickly sliced pancetta
- 2 medium yellow onions thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt divided
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 12 large eggs
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups shredded Gruyère cheese about 8 ounces or 250 grams
- Lightly coat a deep 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray and spread the cubed bread in the bottom.
- In a large skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the pancetta until the fat is mostly rendered and it begins to get crisp, 7-9 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Coarsely chop or crumble, if not already in pieces.
- To the same skillet, still over medium heat, add the onions, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes, until the onions are medium golden-brown and lightly caramelized.
- While the pancetta and onions are cooking, add eggs to a large bowl, and whisk to blend. Add the milk, mustard, nutmeg, thyme, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper; whisk again until well-combined.
- Spread the pancetta over the bread cubes, then layer the onions on top. Sprinkle grated Gruyère on next, then pour the egg mixture over everything.
- Press down gently on the top, so that all of the bread cubes get soaked with the egg mixture. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.
- When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 C).
- Bake strata, uncovered, until the edges are bubbling and the top begins to brown, 35 to 50 minutes. (Baking times may vary considerably depending on the depth of your baking dish.) To check for doneness, insert a knife into the middle of the strata; if it comes out clean, the dish is baked through. Cover with aluminum foil near the end of cooking if the top is already browned. Remove, and serve warm.
- Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- Recipe adapted from The Kitchn; the significant changes are to the yield and the method, specifically to reduce the number of dishes you need to wash afterwards (always a goal of mine) and add the flavor of the pancetta to the onions, because really, why not?