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Mushroom and Asparagus Strata
This fabulous breakfast casserole is loaded with fresh vegetables, herbs, aromatics and cheese. The texture can be adjusted to suit your taste by adjusting the toast level of the bread, the amount of time the strata is weighted down, and the cooking time. For a firmer, denser strata, toast the bread until very crisp and just beginning to brown. Add the custard, and weight the strata for 1 hour. Bake until dark golden brown, about 1 hour more. For a softer, fluffier strata, toast the bread until just somewhat crisp, weight overnight, and bake until just beginning to brown around the edges, about 45 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F, and adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Spread the bread out on a baking sheet in an even layer, and bake until dry and crisp but not brown, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Discard the end pieces of the bread or save for another use. Using 2 tablespoons of butter, spread a small amount on one side of each slice of bread; spread the Dijon mustard on the other side. Set aside until needed.
Place a medium sauté pan over medium heat; add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and heat through. Sauté the onions until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, and season with 1/2 teaspoon each kosher salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms have released all of their liquid, the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms have begun to brown, about 6 to 8 minutes.
Add the garlic, thyme and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, and cook one minute more. Increase the heat to high; add the wine, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer until the wine is completely absorbed. Transfer the onion/mushroom mixture to a medium bowl, and set aside until needed.
Butter the baking dish with the remaining tablespoon of butter; arrange a single, even layer of bread slices, buttered-side up, on the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle the onion/mushroom mixture over the bread, then top with one-half cup of the grated cheese. Arrange another single even layer of bread slices over the cheese. (Note: You may not need to use all of the bread.) Attractively arrange the asparagus over the bread, and then top with another one-half cup of grated cheese.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the strata, and cover flush with plastic wrap; weight the strata down with a 2-pound bag of rice or sugar or the equivalent. Refrigerate (weighted) for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Uncover the strata, and sprinkle the remaining one-half cup of cheese evenly over the surface; bake until the strata is golden brown and the edges have pulled away slightly from the sides of the dish, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.
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