There’s a lot to love about a breakfast casserole on Christmas or any weekend morning. First, whether you go in the direction of a strata, a quiche, or a frittata, everything is customizable: If there’s one thing a casserole loves, it’s a leftover. So take that half-eaten bell pepper, knob of cheddar, and store-bought chorizo and make a Mexican-inspired casserole. Or use up the rest of the thyme, bacon, mushrooms and baguette from last night’s coq au vin for a super-flavorful French creation.
Second, breakfast casseroles can be made ahead, saving the exhausted host from getting up and reinventing the wheel for her guests. Whether you’re craving the breakfast strata Lorraine seen above or the wonderfully hearty cheddar-sausage strata below, there’s a casserole for you. Here are general rules for customizing yours on the fly.
1. Have Enough Bread to Loosely Fill the Pan
When you’re eyeballing your baking vessel, whether it’s 8-inch square, a cast-iron skillet, or a loaf pan, think about how much bread you have. That bread can be challah, baguette, white bread, brown bread, or even croissants. Chop the bread into bite-sized pieces, about an inch-and-a-half square, and see if they fill your baking dish without brimming above it. Once you’re golden, take it out and measure how much you have. Four cups? Six? Remember that. Now butter your casserole dish, dump the bread back in, and set it aside.
2. Use Equal Parts Liquid and Bread
This will vary by the recipe, but you’re essentially making a custard, which will set as your casserole cooks. Be sure it’s half whisked eggs and half milk, and that it’s the same volume as your chopped bread. (Six cups of bread? Use three cups of whisked eggs and three cups of milk or buttermilk.) And don’t forget to season it with salt, pepper, and maybe hot sauce, dried herbs or whatever works with the other players.
3. Don’t Forget Cheese
Is it a casserole without cheese? We’re not sure, either, but let’s not take that risk. Try cheddar, feta, Parmesan, mozzarella, Gruyère, or whatever you have that goes with the other ingredients. Use half the amount of cheese as you have as liquid. (For six cups of bread and six cups of egg-milk mixture, use three cups of cheese.) Add most of the cheese to the bread in the greased dish, reserving a handful for the top. Add any cooked meat or chopped veggies to the cheese and bread, and pour the liquid over. Press everything down with a spatula so everything is submerged for a moment.
4. Make It Ahead if You Like
Sprinkle the assembled casserole with reserved cheese and bake immediately in a 350-degree oven or tuck the whole thing, covered, into the fridge overnight. Cook for 20 to 45 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and the custard is set. Garnish with fresh herbs or bacon bits if you like, but bubbling cheese is probably all you need. Serve with a big serving spoon, and let folks get their own seconds. Relish the fact that there’s just one dish left to clean, and let someone else do that instead. Happy holidays, indeed.
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