I hear a lot of requests for breakfast casserole recipes. They’re popular for good reason. Waking up to a tasty and filling breakfast that needs nothing more than to be thrown into a hot oven is a great way to start the weekend. I’ve made and loved Deb’s Boozy Baked French Toast, but it’s missing some sort of fruit to round out the nutrition. This sausage and mushroom strata has it all – protein, starch, and vegetables.
I’ve eaten a lot of different breakfast casseroles, and I’ve found that there are some tricks to making a good one. One is to use hearty bread and to dry it out so you don’t have a soggy casserole. You want to replace the moisture that’s naturally in the bread with your own flavored liquids. Also, don’t use so many eggs that they can’t be evenly mixed in and absorbed. I have a recipe for a breakfast casserole that I love the flavors of, but the original recipe calls for so many eggs that I once got a bite of nothing but unmixed egg white while eating it. Finally, of course you need to use a combination of flavors that you love, and adding lots of cheese never hurts.
Casseroles like this are perfect when you have a long day ahead of you and don’t have time to prepare a good breakfast in the morning. I’ve eaten them before skiing, hiking, and moving. They also make a great addition to a brunch menu.
Breakfast Strata with Sausage, Mushrooms, and Monterey Jack (from Cooks Illustrated November 2001)
Makes one 8 by 8-inch strata, serving 6
CI note: To weigh down the assembled strata, we found that two 1-pound boxes of brown or powdered sugar, laid side by side over the plastic-covered surface, make ideal weights. A gallon-sized zipper-lock bag filled with about 2 pounds of sugar or rice also works. This recipe doubles easily; use a 9 by 13-inch baking dish greased with only 1½ tablespoons butter and increase the baking time as directed in step 4. Feel free to substitute any good melting cheese, such as Havarti, sharp cheddar, or colby.
Bridget note: This time when I made this recipe, it ended up a bit too salty. I’m guessing the necessary salt will vary based on the sausage, so start low and add more if necessary. Pictures show a half recipe made in a loaf pan.
8-10 slices supermarket French bread (½-inch thick) or Italian bread (6 – 7 ounces)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces bulk breakfast sausage, crumbled
3 medium shallots, minced (about 1/3 cup)
8 ounces white button mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
Table salt and ground black pepper
½ cup medium-dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
6 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated (about 1½ cups)
6 large eggs
1¾ cups half-and-half
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 225 degrees. Arrange bread in single layer on large baking sheet and bake until dry and crisp, about 40 minutes, turning slices over halfway through drying time. (Alternatively, leave slices out overnight to dry.) When cooled, butter slices on one side with 2 tablespoons butter; set aside.
2. Fry sausage in medium nonstick skillet over medium heat, breaking sausage apart with wooden spoon, until sausage has lost raw color and begins to brown, about 4 minutes; add shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and translucent, about 1 minute longer. Add mushrooms to skillet, and cook until mushrooms no longer release liquid, about 6 minutes; transfer mixture to medium bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add wine to skillet, increase heat to medium-high, and simmer until reduced to ¼ cup, 2 to 3 minutes; set aside.
3. Butter 8-inch square baking dish with remaining 1 tablespoon butter; arrange half the buttered bread slices, buttered-side up, in single layer in dish. Sprinkle half of sausage mixture, then ½ cup grated cheese evenly over bread slices. Arrange remaining bread slices in single layer over cheese; sprinkle remaining sausage mixture and another ½ cup cheese evenly over bread. Whisk eggs and parsley in medium bowl until combined; whisk in reduced wine, half-and-half, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Pour egg mixture evenly over bread layers; cover surface flush with plastic wrap, weigh down (see note, above), and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
4. Remove dish from refrigerator and let stand at room temperature 20 minutes. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Uncover strata and sprinkle remaining ½ cup cheese evenly over surface; bake until both edges and center are puffed and edges have pulled away slightly from sides of dish, 50 to 55 minutes (or about 80 minutes for doubled recipe). Cool on wire rack 5 minutes; serve.