This recipe for a savory egg casserole, or strata, uses both Monterey Jack and Dry Jack. It’s a riff on the recipes that appeared throughout local newspapers in the 1970s, when California’s dairy industry was promoting both Jack cheeses with recipes that capitalized on the romance of its Spanish mission-era history. This is cheesy and rich, with a custardy middle and wonderfully browned and nutty crusty edges, perfect with the warm Spanish tomato-onion-chile sauce that cooks at the same time in the oven. Both are good warm, or at room temperature.
Though you can use ordinary Monterey Jack for this pie, it’s worth it to try to source a better version from a smaller cheesemaker, if you can find one. And if you can’t find an aged Dry Jack locally, you can get it sent by mail from makers like Vella or Rumiano—or try asking your local cheese shop to order it for you. A substitute for the Dry Jack, if you really can’t find it or don’t want to wait, is an aged cheese like an asiago.
- Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
- Layer the bread evenly on a baking sheet and toast until dry and browned, about 15 minutes.
- Remove the bread from the oven and put it in a large mixing bowl. Toss them with the onions, olive oil, and salt until well mixed. It's okay if some of them crumble. Layer this mixture evenly across the bottom of a deep-dish pie pan.
- In the same mixing bowl, beat together the eggs and milk, then stir in the cheese and the paprika, if using.
- Layer this mixture evenly over the bread cubes in the pie pan, using your clean hands or a spatula to press down the bread cubes so they are fully covered by the egg-and-cheese mixture.
- Cover the pie pan with foil and bake for 20 minutes on the top rack of the oven.
- Meanwhile, blend all ingredients for the sofrito together in an oven-safe skillet and put them in the oven on the lower rack. Let it cook until the sofrito is bubbling and the onions are cooked through (usually about the time the strata is done).
- Once the pie has cooked for 20 minutes, remove the foil and bake for 20 minutes more, or until the strata is browned and puffy and the interior is no longer jiggly. Remove the pie and the sofrito, if done, from the oven. Let both cool for at least 15 minutes before serving together, or serve both at room temperature.
Rachel Wharton is a James Beard award-winning journalist in New York City with a master’s degree in food studies. She has worked on more than a dozen books on food and cooking, including her most recent, American Food: A Not-So-Serious History.