A classic, old school comfort dish perfect for brunch, is the savory sibling to a sweet bread pudding dessert and even the distant culinary cousin to a quiche: The Make-Ahead Strata.This custardy concoction is a delicious dish that I pack full of my favorite cheese (one that melts well in a casserole), layered with fillings of my choice and made into a baked, puffed creation with the addition of milk and eggs.
What started as a go-to Betty Crocker recipe for my mother to serve on a Sunday morning (and to prepare the night before once we little ones were asleep), it remains an easy make-ahead casserole that can be doubled in size, using a larger baking dish, to feed a dozen guests (home-style potato chunks, sausages and fruit salad round out the meal). This is a nice entree-style item that can be served any time of day and as a leftover, we often have it for dinner with a green side salad.
6 T. unsalted butter, softened
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 t. dry mustard
1 loaf egg bread or country white, preferably hand sliced 3/4-inch thick, with crusts removed
2 c. shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (or cheese of choice -- I favor gruyere!)
2 T. snipped Italian parsley
2 shallots, sliced and sautéed in butter
1 t. salt
1/2 t. Worcestershire sauce
1/8 t. fresh ground pepper
Dash of cayenne red pepper
1-2 c. various cooked, chopped fillings of choice*
2-1/3 c. whole milk
2/3 c. dry white wine (optional)**
Mix butter, garlic and mustard and spread over one side of each slice of bread. Cut each slice into thirds. Line bottom and sides of ungreased square baking dish, 8x8x2," with half of the bread slices, buttered sides down.
Mix cheese, parsley, shallots, salt, Worcestershire sauce, pepper and red pepper; sprinkle half evenly over dish. Cover with all cooked and sautéed fillings, as desired. Sprinkle remaining cheese mixture over fillings. Top with the rest of the bread slices, buttered sides up. Beat eggs; blend in milk and wine. Pour over bread. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. (We always prepare this dish before bedtime and pop it into the refrigerator the night before. On rising we remove the dish and let come to room temperature for an hour before baking in the preheated oven. Let it set before cutting into squares -- up to a half hour is fine.)
Cook uncovered in 325-degree oven until knife inserted in center comes out clean, about 1-1/4 hours. Let stand at least 10 minutes before cutting. 6-8 servings.
*I used sautéed diced butternut squash and sautéed small cubes of pancetta. However, the choices are endless: Meatless fillings are equally delicious, such as sautéed chopped kale and mushrooms.
**Wine can be omitted, in which case the milk should be increased to 3 full cups.