Being Southern and all, I grew up eating, and loving, breakfast casserole. (Some of you may call it a strata or bake. To be honest, I still don't know the difference.) My mother's recipe is basic—just sausage, bread, eggs, and cheese. Any time mom has to feed a crowd, whether for company, early football games, or Christmas, this is the dish she makes.
I love hers to no end, but I recently discovered one I like just a bit better. I spent a week in New England this summer, and on one particularly early morning, a friend of my host (and a very highly regarded cook) made us her breakfast casserole. It was similar to my mother's, but at the same time seemed more "high end." The sausage and cheddar kept if familiar, but the substantial bread cubes and abundance of veggies made it feel just a little bit more gourmet.
I forgot to ask her for the recipe, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about that meal. Using my favorite as a base, along with my memories of the dish, I came up with my own version that I think is pretty darn good. It's not hard by any means, but the chopping and the cooking and the soaking do take a bit of forethought. That's why I decided to double the recipe, that way, I can keep one for now and freeze another for later.
Now that its fall, you never know when your going to need to feed a crowd (or even just a hungry family.) You might as well plan ahead. And when this breakfast casserole lands on the table, you'll be glad you did!
Sausage and Vegetable Breakfast Bake
Makes 2 casseroles (8 servings each)
2% or whole milk
heaping teaspoons dry mustard powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
16-ounce loaves day-old Italian or French bread, cubed
sweet onion, chopped
red bell pepper, chopped
pound mushrooms, sliced or chopped
large head broccoli, chopped
(16 ounces) sharp cheddar cheese, grated
bulk breakfast sausage
Grease two 9x13-inch casserole dishes.
In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, eggs, and mustard powder. Season generously with salt and pepper. (You can do this in two bowls if you'd like.) Add the bread cubes to the egg mixture and toss to combine, making sure every piece is saturated. Set aside.
In a large skillet or braiser, heat a few glugs of olive oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, and broccoli and cook until softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the sausage to the skillet and cook until crumbly and no longer pink. Remove from the heat and season generously with salt, pepper, and cayenne.
Toss the vegetables, sausage, and cheddar cheese with the bread mixture until thoroughly combined. Spread in the prepared casserole dishes. Cover and refrigerate overnight (or a minimum of 2 hours if necessary, but the longer the better).
Preheat oven to 375°. Wrap one dish tightly with plastic wrap, followed by a layer of aluminum foil. Label with date and cooking instructions (see below) and freeze for later use. Bake the remaining casserole, uncovered, until top is light golden and the center is cooked through. Serve warm.
To cook the frozen casserole: Remove from the freezer and thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before cooking. Bake, uncovered, at 375° for 50 to 60 minutes, or until top is light golden and the center is cooked through.
(Images: Nealey Dozier)