Bread Gratin

October 29, 2011

Acorns were good until bread was found.
~Francis Bacon

Monday was Food Day, a grassroots event sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest intended to enhance the food chain. Through education and even litigation, this nonprofit watchdog group has battled for accurate labeling, better nutrition, and safer eats for decades. This day underscored and celebrated food’s significance as an integral part of the human condition…for vitality, diversion and pleasure. It aimed to connect the dots between good food, health, supply and sustainability and suggested alternatives to the ever expanding fast food nation with such events as Eat Real, Eat In.

This year’s iteration actually returned after an extended hiatus. In 1975, the inaugural Food Day took place, although it only lasted only a couple of years due to a lack of funding. This time though, with an increased social awareness of locally grown, natural foods and nutritious diets, Food Day should become an annual reminder. Good grub that nourishes should be a staple.

Now I by no means suggest that you should have slaved at the stove, unshowered, unshaven, garbed in dreadlocks and hemp, preparing only purely organic vegan super fare. If so, fine. But, that kind of overwrought integrity may prove indigestible to some.

Food Day should be celebrated nearly everyday. Face it–our species must necessarily eat and drink almost daily. Why make the art of cooking and eating such unwholesome drudgery? Some one in four Americans dine on fast food daily while obesity, heart disease and diabetes rates continue to skyrocket. Fad diets have been roundly proven unsuccessful. Other societies that have emulated our diet have promptly fattened. I am no strict health food advocate, but creating a fine, hale meal whether savored alone, tête-à-tête or around a communal table has few rivals.

In honor of this day, here is some staff of life.


Unsalted butter, for dish

4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 C whole milk
1 C heavy whipping cream
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 slices artisanal bread, cut 1/2″ thick

2 C fontina and/or gruyère, freshly shredded

Parmigiano-reggiano, freshly grated
Nutmeg, freshly grated

Preheat oven to 350 F

Butter a deep baking dish on bottom and sides.

In a large bowl, beat eggs and yolks, then whisk in milk, cream, salt, and pepper. Add bread slices and allow to soak, turning occasionally, about 4-5 minutes. Layer half of the slices in the buttered baking dish and evenly strew 1 cup of the fontina and/or gruyère on top. Pour any of the remaining milk, cream and egg mixture over this first layer. Layer with the remaining bread slices and then 1 cup of the fontina and/or gruyère again. Then sprinkle with the grated parmigiano-reggiano and top with a tad of nutmeg.

Slip into oven and bake until the egg mixture is set and the top is golden, about 30-35 minutes. Allow to cool about 10 minutes before serving.

Pourboire: should you feel a touch sly, you can slip in some sautéed mushrooms, pancetta lardons or Swiss chard between layers before baking. Also, always remember that nutmeg can be overwhelming, so be judicious when grating.