French Brie, Ham and Asparagus Strata

Early Summer 2012
food and drink

BY: Monda Rosenberg

If a ham and cheese croissant is your idea of l’amour, you’ll love this make-ahead party dish. The best part? Nothing has to be done the morning of your brunch except for lifting the strata from the fridge to the oven. Both the asparagus and fresh tarragon sing beautifully of the season and if you want to go vegetarian, let sautéed yellow pepper strips stand in for the ham.

8 oz (250 g) thin asparagus, about 1 small bunch
4 large croissants
2 double crème bries (each 200 g)
or 2 goat’s cheese bries (each 165 g)
¼ cup (60 mL) coarsely chopped fresh tarragon leaves
2 tsp (10 mL) herbes de Provence
1 piece (7 oz/210 g) smoked Black Forest ham
8 eggs
2 tsp (10 mL) Dijon
2½ cups (625 mL) homogenized milk
½ tsp (2 mL) salt

1 Break tough ends from asparagus and discard. Slice spears into bite-size lengths. You should have about 1½ cups (375 mL). Boil in water until tender-crisp, about 2 minutes. Drain and plunge into cold water to stop the cooking. Then drain well and pat dry.

2 Slice each croissant in half, forming 2 croissant-shaped pieces. Butter or spray a 12-cup (3-L) baking dish, such as a 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33-cm) oval or rectangular dish. Place bottom halves of croissant, cut-side up, in the dish. Break remaining croissants into bitesize pieces and use some to fill in spaces on the bottom of the dish. Press down firmly on croissants.

3 To make brie easy to slice, place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Then slice rinds from brie and discard. Slice the cheese as thinly as you can. Cover croissants in dish with half the cheese. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp (30 mL) tarragon leaves and 1 tsp (5 mL) herbes de Provence. Remove rind from ham and discard. Julienne ham into bite-size pieces, about 1/3 inch (8 mm) wide. You will have about 2 cups (500 mL). Scatter half over the cheese. Add half the well-dried asparagus. Scatter with the remaining croissant pieces, cut-side down. Press down firmly. Lay remaining cheese slices on top. Scatter with remaining ham, herbes de Provence, tarragon and asparagus.

4 In a large bowl, whisk 2 eggs with Dijon until no lumps remain. Whisk in remaining eggs, then milk and salt. Gradually pour evenly over strata. Stretch a piece of clear wrap over the surface of the strata. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.

5 When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

6 Remove clear wrap from strata and place cold strata in the centre of oven. Lay a large piece of foil loosely over the top of the dish. Do not seal to the sides. Bake 30 minutes. Then uncover and continue baking for 45 more minutes until puffed and golden and the centre of strata seems set when pan is jiggled. Let strata sit 10 minutes before serving. For ease in serving, run a thin knife between the dish and the warm strata. This dish is lovely with a pink grapefruit and mesclun mix salad, fennel slaw or marinated artichoke and green olive toss.

Serves 8