I made this casserole over Thanksgiving break when a few friends came over for breakfast. It was delicious. And the company was great. The best thing about good friends is you may only see them once or twice a year, but you never miss a beat. These friends happened to my best friends, all the way back from high school and they came to catch up and finally meet the wee one. And a surprise addition joined us, our high school band teacher. It was great! Lots of fun and this casserole was amazing. It may have to make a reappearance around Christmas.
We were having too much fun, so I forgot to take a picture. But you must try it.
The key is pouring some bacon grease over the top before putting it in the fridge, and putting some cream on top right before the oven.
"Ham and Cheese" Breakfast Casserole serves 6 to 8
4 cups (loosely packed) day-old challah bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (I used chibatta bread instead)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 pound pancetta (thickly sliced), diced ( I used a package of uncured bacon* instead)
1 1/2 cups whole milk ( I used coconut milk)
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 cup grated gruyere cheese (about 4 ounces) ( I used swiss cheese)
Grease an 8-inch square baking dish and throw in the cubed challah.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a skillet over medium to low heat. Add the onions, salt, and sugar. Sauté until they are lightly caramelized (a medium golden brown color), about 15 minutes.
In another heavy saucepan, heat the other tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat and sauté the pancetta until the fat is almost all rendered and it begins to get crisp, about 8 to 10 minutes. Set on a paper towel to drain.
Whisk together the eggs, milk, dry mustard, nutmeg, and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle pancetta over the bread cubes, then layer onions on top. Sprinkle grated Gruyère on next, and then pour the egg mixture over the entire thing. This is the time you want to pour some of that bacon grease over everything.
Press down on the top gently, so that all of the bread cubes get soaked a bit with the egg mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
In the morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (take the casserole out of the fridge while the oven is preheating). Bake, uncovered, for 30-35 minutes, or until the edges are bubbling and the top begins to brown.
*Uncured bacon is the good stuff because it doesn't have those pesky added nitrates.