Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

We had two rooms of guests spending the night on a recent weekend so, being a domestic goddess wannabe, I decided to make something filling for breakfast that I could prepare ahead. The idea of a bready egg strata or overly rich egg, cheese and sausage casserole wasn’t appealing. I know, how odd. I remembered this casserole I made once for a friend’s Sunday afternoon brunch. It has the requisite pork appearance, creamy sauce and pasta. Yet, maybe because asparagus plays such a starring role, it seems more healthy than most brunch casseroles.

You can easily make it the night before by following the recipe up until baking. Don’t top it with the crumbs and cheese; combine them in a plastic bag, seal it and save them for the morning. Cover the casserole and refrigerate. In the morning, let it warm up a bit before topping it with the crumbs and cheese and putting it in the oven. Watch the timing; it may take longer than 10 minutes to cook through. Cover it with foil if the top starts to brown too much.

This is not a boldly flavored dish, yet we hardly had any leftovers. You might want to spice it up with fresh herbs (thyme, basil) or hot sauce. Next time I plan to substitute other vegetables for all or part of the asparagus – broccoli, red bell pepper (would add nice color too), peas and/or mushrooms.

Although I made this for a late breakfast, you could definitely make it for dinner. It’d be great with a green salad and crispy glass of white wine.

Asparagus and Ham Casserole

Yield:  6 servings (serving size: 1 cup)

  • 1 (1-ounce) slice bread or ½ cup panko bread crumbs
  • 3-3/4 cups uncooked extra-broad egg noodles
  • 2-1/2 cups (1-1/2 inch) sliced asparagus
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • A few scrapes of nutmeg on the rasp, optional
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1 cup 2% milk – recipe calls for whole milk but I use 2%
  • 1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ cup sherry or white wine, optional – sherry adds a nice tone to the dish, but I was out of it
  • Olive oil, butter or a mix
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped onion, or more
  • 3 cloves garlic, or more
  • 1 or 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (or from a bottle) – I used about 2 Tbsps
  • 1-1/2 cups (1/2 inch) cubed ham (about 8 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 Tbsp (or more) grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 450. Place the bread in a food processor, and pulse until coarse crumbs form to measure 1/2 cup (or just use panko bread crumbs).

Cook the pasta in boiling water for 7 minutes. Add the asparagus and cook another 1-2 minutes, depending on the thickness of your asparagus. You don’t want to overcook the asparagus because you want it to have some bite after baking. Drain.

Place the flour, thyme, salt, pepper and nutmeg (optional) in a bowl, and gradually add the milk, broth and sherry (optional), whisking until well-blended.

Heat your oil (or butter) in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute 3 minutes, then add the garlic and sauté about 1 minute more. Add the milk mixture and cook until the sauce is thick (about 4 minutes), stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice.

Combine the pasta mixture, milk mixture, ham and parsley in a large bowl. Spoon the mixture into a 2-quart casserole. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and cheese. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes or until the filling is bubbly and topping is golden.

Original recipe: Cooking Light, May 2001

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3 thoughts on “Asparagus and Ham Casserole

  1. Karin Christopher says:

    Thanks for the hint of making it the night before. I am in the midst of preparing it but wasn’t sure whether to bake it now and heat up later or do as you recommended. You’ve answered my question!

    1. deirdrereid says:

      I hope you like it, Karin. It’s definitely a more healthy alternative to the bread- and egg-laden casseroles and stratas we usually make. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

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