This elegant, flavor-packed casserole is the perfect centerpiece for a holiday brunch.
When someone says holiday entertaining, most people think evening. But in the busiest of all months, hosting brunch is more my style. You can feast, linger and be sitting by the fire drinking cocoa in wool socks by the time your last guest leaves.
Brunch is also simple to pull off — but you do need a centerpiece, something that makes people pleased when you invite them back around the same time next year.
This flavor-packed casserole does the trick beautifully. It’s a crowd-pleaser and, frankly, pretty elegant for polenta.
The key is the cheese, so choose something creamy with a bit of punch — Fontina is heady and rich, but Manchego, mozzarella or smoked Gouda also work. Layer on your favorite meat, like soppressata or Canadian bacon, or maybe go vegetarian with oven-dried tomatoes and heaps of kale. Top with eggs and let the oven do the rest. Do watch the time: You want your eggs just set and a little oozy. Then finish with piles of herbs (again, your favorites win; I like basil).
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Alongside, serve a colorful salad with a kick. A blood orange-and-radicchio number would be welcome, or maybe kale, endive and citrus, with a mustardy vinaigrette. Coffee will be needed, of course, but a cocktail would also be right at home. You might serve eggnog to gild the lily (egg on egg, but who am I to complain).
As good as this is for entertaining, don’t just reserve it for parties. My own family will be eating this on Christmas morning as fuel for the fun. We’ll pour freshly squeezed grapefruit juice — the adults may add a splash of bourbon — and have seconds of the casserole while the kids open gifts.
Cheesy Breakfast Egg-and-Polenta Casserole
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
1 cup quick-cooking polenta
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup whole milk
½ cup (2 ounces) fontina or mozzarella, or a blend, shredded
5 ounces thinly sliced cured meat, such as hot or sweet Italian sausage, salami or ham (optional)
1 packed cup spinach, kale or other leafy green, torn or chopped (optional)
8 large eggs
½ cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan
Ground black pepper
¼ cup packed basil leaves, larger ones roughly torn (optional)
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees with the rack in the center. Generously butter a 9-by-13-inch pan and set aside.
2. Bring 4 cups water to a boil. Gradually whisk in the polenta and salt, and cook, stirring constantly until the polenta bubbles and pulls away from the pan, about three minutes. Vigorously stir in the milk, butter and cheese until smooth and creamy. (It will seem loose.)
3. Spread the polenta onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Layer with meat, greens or anything else you desire. Use the back of a large spoon to create eight small wells in the polenta. Crack the eggs inside, sprinkle with Parmesan, and bake 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how set you like your eggs. Let stand for five minutes; sprinkle with black pepper and basil and serve warm.