Food Network seems so obvious now, 20 years to the week after it debuted.
But if you rewatched the first few days of programming that were aired to roughly 6.5 million households in America starting on Nov. 23, 1993 — Robin Leach making inappropriate jokes on a show called “Talking Food” and a young Emeril Lagasse miscast as the first host of “How to Boil Water” — you’d see just how haphazardly the network was assembled and how hard it was at the beginning to fill 24 hours a day with engaging food content.
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Rachael Ray is the keynote speaker at next week’s Texas Conference for Women, but she’s also in the middle of a tour for her latest cookbook, “Week in a Day,” which includes make-ahead-friendly recipes like this mushroom and spinach “bread-zagna.”
The day before the women’s conference, where I’ll interview her on stage, Ray will sign copies of “Week in a Day” at 6 p.m. Monday at BookPeople. You can buy the book now either in store or online, which will automatically assign you a “ticket” for the free signing. For details, go to bookpeople.com.
Mushroom & Spinach Bread-zagna
Lasagna may be the favorite comfort food of all time, but once you make bread-zagna, and you figure out how much easier your lasagna life can be, you might never look back. This will make enough to serve six grown-ups unless I’m there, then it will probably feed two — John and I could eat the whole bread-zagna by ourselves.
— Rachael Ray
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. cremini or mixed mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 shallot, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1/3 cup Marsala or dry white wine
1/3 cup chicken stock
1 lb. farm spinach, stemmed, washed, dried and chopped
2 cups half-and-half
6 large eggs
Freshly grated nutmeg
2 Tbsp. butter cut into small pieces, plus softened butter for the baking dish
8 slices (1-inch thick) peasant-style white bread
3/4 lb. Fontina Val d’Aosta or Gruyère cheese, shredded or thinly sliced
1 1/2 to 2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender and dark. Stir in thyme, garlic, shallot, and salt and pepper and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with Marsala and stir until almost completely evaporated. Pour in stock, wilt in the spinach, and turn off the heat.
In a large bowl, whisk half-and-half with eggs, a few grates of nutmeg, and salt and pepper. Soak the bread, turning occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed.
Butter a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish. Lay 4 slices of bread on the bottom and top with mushrooms and spinach and half of the cheeses, followed by the remaining bread and cheese. Dot the top with butter and bake until golden, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
To make this dish ahead of time, bake for 45 minutes and then let cool before covering with aluminum foil or other lid and refrigerating. On the day you’d like to serve it, bring the bread-zagna to room temperature while you preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Bake until heated through, about 30 minutes. Serves 6.
— From “Week in a Day” by Rachael Ray (Atria Books, $24.99)