Charleston Spice Exchange’s Marilyn Markel whips up a breakfast casserole perfect for popping in the oven on Christmas morning
(Makes 12 servings)
8 cups 1-inch cubes Italian bread
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 Tbs. olive oil
21/2 cups baby portabella mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
Pinch of salt
4 large scallions, thinly cut on the diagonal
6 oz. baby spinach, washed, stems removed, and leaves julienned
4 roasted piquillo peppers from a 12-oz. jar, drained
8 oz. diced feta or crumbled goat cheese
8 oz. spiral sliced ham, cut into pieces
3 cups half-and-half
6 large eggs
1 Tbs. Greek seasoning
2 Tbs. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
The morning before baking, spread the bread cubes on a rimmed baking sheet to dry out. The night before baking, butter 12 individual ramekins (eight to 10 ounces).
Heat the olive oil in a medium-size skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and salt and cook for five minutes before stirring. When the mushrooms have released liquid and start to brown, add the scallions, spinach, and peppers and cook, stirring, for about two minutes. Remove from heat and cool.
Place the bread in a large bowl. Add the mushroom mixture, cheese, and ham, tossing with the bread cubes until well distributed.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the half-and-half, eggs, and seasoning until smooth. Pour the wet blend over the bread and stir to ensure that the custard permeates the mixture. Spoon the bread mixture evenly into the ramekins. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the ramekins for 30 minutes, until the strata is browned and the custard is set. Cool for 10 minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.
■ ’Tis the season: Markel uses a Greek seasoning blend from Spice & Tea Exchange, explaining, “It contains freshly dehydrated lemon zest that offers exceptional flavor.” However, other brands of Greek spice mixes may be substituted.
■ Veg out: Entertaining vegetarians this holiday? Simply eliminate the ham, Markel says. For an extra-veggie dish, pre-cooked and diced sweet potatoes or eggplants can replace the meat.
■ Mix and match: “It’s crucial to use the same amount of bread and custard for the recipe, but the cheese, meat, vegetables, and seasonings can be traded out,” she notes. For example, mushrooms and ham can be swapped for broccoli and sausage.
■ Side show: While the dish is perfect on its own, for a fuller brunch plate, Markel suggests serving the strata with a wintry citrus salad—try mixing leafy greens, mandarin orange wedges, crumbled goat cheese, and a vinaigrette dressing.
Meet the chef: Marilyn Markel
For Marilyn Markel, the phrase “season’s greetings” may very well be “seasoning’s greetings.” As the manager of the Spice & Tea Exchange of Charleston, Markel is busiest around the holidays, helping shoppers select savory herbs and artisanal teas to give as gifts and use for cozy gatherings. She’s also made her mark in the culinary scene: serving as a board member for Les Dames d’Escoffier, Southern Foodways Alliance, and the International Association of Culinary Professionals and authoring Southern Breads: Recipes, Stories and Tradition (The History Press, 2016). One of her favorite products at the shop is a Greek seasoning blend with oregano, feta cheese powder, lemon zest, and more. This time of year, she uses it to add a Mediterranean kick to a breakfast casserole. “The recipe can be assembled the day before and baked in the morning,” she says. “It makes Christmas Day entertaining a snap!”