You know those times when you make something so good, you can't wait for an excuse to make it again? This is one of those times. Wow. Perfect for a spring family gathering, such as an Easter brunch, Mother's Day, or a graduation.
This ham and asparagus strata is basically a breakfast casserole, taken up a notch or two. It's a layered casserole with cubes of rustic bread, eggs, Gruyere cheese, milk, cream, diced ham, and asparagus.
It feeds a crowd. You can easily make ahead. Leftovers (if you have them, which I seriously doubt) will reheat beautifully for days.
Ham and Asparagus Strata
- 1 loaf Italian or French rustic bread, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes, about 8 cups total of bread cubes
- 1 pound asparagus spears, woody ends removed, spears cut into 3/4-inch pieces
- Salt (for blanching water)
- 1 medium bowl of ice water
- 2 Tbsp softened butter (for buttering the dish)
- 6-ounces ham, cut into 1/4-inch cubes, about 2 cups
- 4-ounces Gruyere cheese, grated, about 1 cup, packed
- 4 eggs
- 1 1/4 cups cream
- 1 3/4 cups milk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon dried tarragon (or thyme)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 8x11x2¼ casserole baking dish
Lightly toast the cubed bread:
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Spread the cubed bread over a baking dish or sheet pan in a single layer. Place in oven and bake until lightly toasted, about 7 to 8 minutes. Remove and set aside. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, cream, salt, pepper, and tarragon:
Blanch the asparagus:
Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil (1 1/2 teaspoons of salt). Add the cut asparagus to the boiling water. Return to a boil and blanch the asparagus for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the asparagus to a bowl of ice water to shock the asparagus and stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.
Layer the casserole:
Spread butter over the inside of a 8x11x21⁄4-inch casserole dish. Spread half of the bread cubes over the bottom of the casserole dish.
Sprinkle half of the ham cubes over the bread. Sprinkle half of the asparagus over the ham.
Sprinkle everything with half of the Gruyere cheese.
Pour half of the milk egg mixture over everything.
Repeat the process:
Add another layer of cubed bread, ham, asparagus, Gruyere, and milk egg mixture. Press down on the mixture with your (clean) hands to help the bread soak up more of the milk mixture.
At this point you can make up to a day ahead, cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.
Cover with aluminum foil and place in the 350°F oven for 40 minutes. Remove the foil. Bake uncovered for an additional 20 to 30 minutes, until the egg mixture is set. Test by inserting a sharp knife into the center of the casserole. If the inside is still runny, it's not cooked through yet and needs more time in the oven. If the top starts to get too browned, you can cover again with aluminum foil.
Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.