“Ham and Cheese” Breakfast Casserole

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Every morning I drive by a Krispy Kreme that always has the light on. And most mornings, I drive on by and wish I could actually consume 1 or 4 of their donuts – but settle for an iced coffee or a protein shake. Aside from donuts, if I could eat something yummy for breakfast, it would definitely be this casserole.

I hate to even call this a casserole because it lacks the gloopy, greasy consistency most breakfast casseroles have. It is perfect for potlucks, breakfasts, brunches, holiday mornings. You can make it ahead or prepare and eat right away.

Note: who knew pancetta was so delicious? Hot, crispy – porky. It takes everything I have in me to not eat all of it before even adding it to the casserole.

The cooking time is a little wonky – as in keep your eyes on it. Since the bread is soaked in an egg mixture, it could take a bit to cook the entire thing, but not so much time it dries the whole thing out. It takes me almost a full 60 minutes to bake, but others say it takes them 40.

Ingredients:

4 cups (loosely packed) day-old challah or other egg-enriched bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 pound pancetta (thickly sliced), diced
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated Gruyère cheese, from about 4 ounces

Grease an 8-inch square baking dish (or another 1 1/2-quart to 2-quart baking dish) and spread the cubed challah in the bottom.

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.

Meanwhile, in another heavy skillet, 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 about 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a generous quantity of black pepper.

Spread the pancetta over the bread cubes, then layer the onions on top. Sprinkle grated Gruyère on next, and then pour the egg mixture over the entire thing.

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, take the casserole out of the fridge so it can warm on the counter, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake, uncovered, for 35 to 60 minutes, or until the edges are bubbling and the top begins to brown. The baking time will be greatly dependent on the depth of dish you use. Check the interior with a knife; if it comes out clean the bread custard is baked through. (Cover with foil near the end of cooking if the top is already browned.)

I like serving this casserole with fresh fruit and a light salad.

Serves 6 to 8

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Recipe & photo courtesy of thekitchn.com

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