Country Ham Breakfast Strata
Feeds 8 to 10
Here’s what to make for your next Sunday brunch. It’s mostly bread, milk, and eggs baked into savory Italian bread pudding. A rustic sourdough loaf works best. It soaks overnight in the milk and eggs, so the bread needs to be sturdy. As with an omelet, you can fill a strata with whatever you like, but if you’re not a born-and-bred Southerner, here’s the perfect place to get more comfortable with dry-cured country ham. Onions, peppers, and Parmesan complement the ham. I like some chopped collards in there too. The strata comes out almost like a cake that you can cut into slices. A little salad on the side makes the perfect go-with.
1-pound loaf sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes, about 3 quarts
2 1/3 cups half-and-half
6 ounces country ham, finely diced
2 tablespoons bacon grease
2 cups julienned collard greens (optional)
1 small onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice, about 1/2 cup
1 small red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, cut into 1/2-inch dice, about ½ cup
5 scallions, root ends trimmed, thinly sliced, about 1 cup
3 ounces Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spread the bread on a baking sheet and toast until crispy but not browned, about 8 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the half-and-half until well combined. Gently fold in the bread cubes, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (325°F if using convection). Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish.
Place a large skillet on the stove, add the ham, and turn the temperature to high. Add the bacon grease and toss with the ham until melted. Cook, tossing frequently just until the ham starts to crisp, about 3 minutes. Add the collards and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Stir in the onions and peppers and toss and cook until the onions are translucent, about 2 minutes.
Remove the bread that has been soaking overnight and fold in the scallions, cheese, and cooked vegetables. Spread the egg mixture in the prepared dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake until set, puffed, and golden brown, another 15 minutes or so. You can test it with a toothpick; when it comes out clean, it’s done. The eggs will deflate quickly, which is fine.
Good to Know
If you don’t already, save your bacon grease! When it’s warm, pour it into an airtight container, cover, and refrigerate it for up to 1 week. It makes a great cooking fat. You can substitute butter or oil if you like.