ROASTED FEN­NEL AND CARAMELIZED ONION STRATA

Food & Drink - - ENTERTAINING WITH KIDS -

This is not a cake in the usual sense, but it could fall un­der the cat­e­gory of “pud­ding cake” or a savoury bread pud­ding. The se­cret lies not only in the flavour­ful veg­eta­bles, but in the choice of bread. Rather than us­ing the more com­mon baguette or “crusty white bread,” I’ve cho­sen a flavour­ful fo­cac­cia. One laden with gar­lic and herbs will have built-in flavour, so try to seek one out at your lo­cal ar­ti­sanal bakery or at one of the bet­ter gro­cery stores. This is a per­fect brunch item, for it re­quires assem­bly the day be­fore bak­ing and serv­ing. While the strata will be equally flavour­ful the day af­ter bak­ing, the crispy fo­cac­cia cubes that go on top will lose their crunch. For me, that’s one of the best parts.

ROASTED FEN­NEL

1 large fen­nel bulb 1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil ½ tsp (2 mL) salt Pep­per

CARAMELIZED ONIONS

2 medium Vi­dalia onions

1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil

1 tbsp (15 mL) un­salted but­ter 1 tbsp (15 mL) bal­samic vine­gar

STRATA MIX­TURE

5 cups (1.25 L) fo­cac­cia bread cubes, about ½ inch (1 cm) square, di­vided 1½ cups (375 mL) whole milk

½ cup (125 mL) whip­ping cream

4 eggs

¼ tsp (1 mL) salt

½ cup (125 mL) grated Gruyère cheese, di­vided

1 tsp (5 mL) fen­nel seeds 1 For the roasted fen­nel, pre­heat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Trim the base and core of the fen­nel bulb. Slice thinly and trans­fer to a shal­low roast­ing pan. Driz­zle the oil over top and toss to coat. Sea­son with salt and pep­per, and roast, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally, un­til the fen­nel is ten­der and be­gin­ning to brown, about 40 to 45 min­utes. The fen­nel can be pre­pared a day ahead and re­frig­er­ated.

2 For the caramelized onions, peel and slice the onions thinly. Heat the oil and but­ter in a large fry­ing pan over medium heat un­til sizzling. Add the onions and cook with­out stir­ring just un­til the onions be­gin to take on colour on the bot­tom and around the edges of the pan, about 15 to 20 min­utes. Re­duce the heat to medium-low and con­tinue cook­ing, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally un­til the onions are soft and re­duced, an­other 15 to 20 min­utes. Re­duce to low and con­tinue cook­ing and stir­ring un­til the onions are browned and caramelized. The whole process can take up to an hour. Stir in the bal­samic vine­gar and re­move from heat. The onions can be pre­pared a day ahead and re­frig­er­ated.

3 Pre­heat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and line a bak­ing sheet with parch­ment pa­per.

4 Spread 3 cups (750 mL) of the fo­cac­cia cubes on the pre­pared sheet and bake un­til dry and just tak­ing on colour, 15 to 20 min­utes. Re­serve the re­main­ing un­toasted fo­cac­cia cubes for bak­ing the strata the next day.

5 In a medium bowl, whisk to­gether the milk, cream, eggs and salt. Strain through a finemesh sieve and set aside. Spread 1½ cups (375 mL) of the toasted fo­cac­cia cubes in the bot­tom of a deep 9½-inch (24-cm) pie dish. Top with half each of the fen­nel and onions. Top with ¼ cup (60 mL) of shred­ded Gruyère. Re­peat the lay­er­ing with the re­main­ing 1½ cups (375 mL) of toasted fo­cac­cia, the fen­nel, onions and cheese. Slowly pour the milk mix­ture over­top, al­low­ing it to seep in as you are pour­ing. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and re­frig­er­ate overnight.

6 The next day, pre­heat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Scat­ter the fen­nel seeds over­top, fol­lowed by the re­served, un­toasted fo­cac­cia cubes. Bake un­til the fill­ing is set and slightly puffed up in the mid­dle. If the bread cubes brown too quickly, cover the dish loosely with foil, and con­tinue bak­ing un­til set. Serve warm or at room tem­per­a­ture.

Serves 10

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