Can you believe it’s almost Easter? I feel like I’m still cleaning up from Christmas and like I still need to get my husband a Valentine’s Day gift. Just the other day I emailed someone saying “Hope your new year is off to a good start!” I clearly need to get with the times. It’s 97 degrees outside and going to be April in two days. (Speaking of which, anybody got any good April Fool’s pranks?) Pretty soon it’ll be 2025 and I’ll be going, wait, I thought I was still in my twenties! Or at least my thirties!
As the seasons seem to roll by faster and faster and time slips through my fingers like so much crumbly pie dough, I am comforted by the rituals of holidays. And when I say “rituals,” I mean food. As of this moment, my family has literally zero official plans for Easter, which is weird since we are very active Catholics and celebrate Easter as probably the most important holiday of the year. But even though we haven’t pinned down our plans, there are certain things I know will happen. Like ham. Ham will happen. After Easter eggs, ham seems to be the quintessential Easter food for Americans. According to About.com, the reason for this is that meat used to be slaughtered in the fall, and before refrigeration, pork was cured–a process that takes several months. It was around Easter that the hams were finally finished being cured and ready for consumption. And here I thought it had something to do with usurped pagan rituals. The things you learn, right?
Like most Americans, I have come to expect a ham to be the centerpiece of an Easter dinner, typically followed by weeks of leftovers in the form of ham soups, ham macaroni and cheese, and anything else ham can decently be included in. But before the Easter dinner, Easter brunch is another opportunity to enjoy this traditional Easter food. This ham-asparagus and cheese strata took center stage in our Easter brunch last year and I am still thinking about it. (Then again, I practically think it’s still 2014, so maybe don’t read too much into that…) Really, though, this dish was highly memorable. Its delightful rainbow of pastels was perfect for Easter, and I got a bigger kick than I probably should have out of the sunny-side up eggs nestled around its top. I loved the taste of the salty ham with the milder asparagus and piquant bite of Gruyere cheese. Plus, working vegetables directly into a breakfast casserole always gets my approval.
So as I’m trying to decide what to make for Easter breakfast, or brunch, or whatever we end up doing this Sunday, this one is at the top of my short list. Ham will happen.
Ham-Asparagus and Cheese Strata
(Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)
8 oz. asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
5 cups bread cubes (preferably French bread)
2 c. shredded Gruyere or white cheddar cheese
1/4 c. chopped green onions
1 c. diced cooked ham
1 1/2 c. milk
olive oil, to taste
salt and cracked pepper, to taste
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boiling. Add asparagus and cook for 5 minutes or until bright green. Remove and set aside.
2. In a greased 9 x 13 inch baking dish spread half the bread cubes. Top with the cheese, green onion, and half the ham and asparagus. Top with remaining bread.
3. In a bowl whisk together 4 of the eggs and the milk. Evenly pour over the layers in the dish. With the back of a flat spatula, press the bread down into the egg mixture. To with remaining ham and asparagus. If making ahead of time, stop here, cover, and refrigerate until ready to bake.
4. Bake uncovered in a 325 degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and with the back of a wooden spoon, press 6 indentations into the top of the strata. Pour a whole egg into each indentation. Return to oven for 20-25 more minutes. Let stand 15 minutes.
5. Drizzle top of strata with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Cut into squares and serve.