I am all about make-ahead holiday meals. It's very satisfying to make a dish the day before you need it in order to spend more time with family and not be stressed out the next day — or maybe I just value sleeping in on holidays like Easter.
There are all kinds of brunch recipes floating around that you make the night before. Some, like homemade cinnamon rolls, are absolutely insane and do not save anyone any time. So I always come back to strata, a brunch casserole that's filling, affordable (especially now that egg prices have finally dropped), and can be customized for every occasion, whether that's a holiday or a use-up-the-crisper-drawer day. Make it the day before, and it'll be waiting in the fridge for you in the morning. All you have to do is bake it.
It's essentially a savory bread pudding, with stale, crusty bread as the base to soak up the egg-and-dairy mixture. I love to use day-old everything bagels, which I can usually find on clearance at the grocery store, along with French or Italian bread. You can use whatever you have around that's dry and tough, though I highly recommend everything bagels mixed in for that unmistakable garlic and onion flavor.
Since it's spring, asparagus, mushrooms, and ham are my go-to mix-ins. There's always — always! — plenty of cheese involved, too, and in this case that means something nutty and creamy that goes great with ham, like Gruyere or Swiss cheese. I like to cut it in cubes to create pockets of gooey melted cheese that don't fade away like shredded cheese. Give the egg mixture a good spoonful of Dijon mustard, plus some dried herbs and Old Bay, and that's all it really takes to make a casserole that looks as good as it tastes and feeds a crowd.
Make-Ahead Easter Strata with Ham, Asparagus, and Mushrooms
- Stale everything bagels and French bread, enough to fill your casserole dish
- Butter for the casserole dish
- 1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 12 ounces ham, cubed
- 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
- 8 ounces Gruyere, Jarlsberg, or Swiss cheese, cubed
- 4 ounces sharp cheddar, diced or shredded
- 3 green onions, chopped
- 8 eggs
- 2 cups milk or half and half
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon Old Bay
- 1 teaspoon of your favorite dried herb mix (I like Penzey's Mural of Flavor)
- 1 tablespoon dried or fresh chopped chives
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Coat a 9x13 baking pan or casserole dish with butter. (Cooking spray doesn't work well here because you'll be mixing the ingredient together in the pan.)
- Cut your bagels and tear your bread into small pieces. Throw them into the baking pan and distribute them evenly. You'll want to almost fill your pan completely.
- Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat with a little olive oil. Add your mushrooms and cook until they're dry, then add your ham and cook until everything is lightly browned, about 8 minutes. (You can skip this step if you must, but mushrooms and deli-style ham have a lot of water in them that might make your casserole soggy.)
- Scatter the mushrooms, ham, asparagus, and Gruyere cheese over the bread in the pan. Use your fingers to gently combine everything so that the bread and other ingredients are evenly distributed. Sprinkle the cheddar cheese and green onions on top.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, Dijon mustard, Old Bay, herb mix, chives, salt, and pepper. Pour it slowly and evenly over the casserole. Press everything gently down into the egg mixture — the liquid won't come to the top of the pan — then cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.
- When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Take the casserole out of the fridge while it preheats. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until puffed in the center and browned to your liking. I recommend letting it get nice and crunchy on top. Let cool a few minutes before serving.
This recipe is only a guideline, really: You can add any mix-ins and seasonings that you like. For inspiration, here are some possibilities:
Breads: English muffins, rye bread, sourdough, biscuits, croissants (this is a great way to use up the rest of that Costco croissant package!).
Meats: Cooked crumbled breakfast sausage, crumbled bacon, smoked salmon, Canadian bacon, or none at all.
Veggies: Bell peppers, broccoli, red onions, spinach, zucchini, halved cherry tomatoes, jalapeños.
Cheeses: Cream cheese or Boursin in cubes, parmesan, fresh mozzarella, goat cheese, feta, pepper jack.
Seasonings: Italian herb mix, fresh parsley or basil, rosemary, Cajun seasoning, minced garlic.
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