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Mix it up at night, bake in the morning

This dish is greatfor brunch parties or holiday gatherings because it can be put together the night before. Pop it in the oven in the morning, and let it cook while you set the table and prepare a simple breakfast salad of fresh fruit and yogurt.

You can bake at home and transport, or bake at your destination, if time allows.

SWISS HAM BREAKFAST STRATA

8 ounces diced ham (11/2 cups)

1/3 cup chopped onion

6 ounces fresh asparagus, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 11/2 cups)

6 cups cubed French or Italian bread, divided

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme, divided

4 eggs

21/2 cups low-fat milk

Salt and pepper to taste

3/4 cup grated Swiss or Gruyere cheese Lightly coat the inside of a 2-quart covered baking dish with butter or cooking spray; set aside. Lightly coat a frying pan with cooking spray; cook the ham and onion until ham is lightly browned and onion is translucent, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a small dish and set aside. In the same pan, saute the asparagus until bright green and crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Cover the bottom of the baking dish with bread cubes (use about 2 to 21/2 cups). Sprinkle half the asparagus and 1 teaspoon thyme over the bread. Top with another 11/2 cups bread cubes. Sprinkle with all the ham mixture and about 1 teaspoon thyme. Top with 11/2 cups bread cubes. Sprinkle with remaining asparagus and thyme. Top with remaining bread cubes.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and milk until blended. Season with salt and pepper and slowly pour over the casserole, taking care to wet each bread cube on the top layer. Sprinkle on the grated cheese. Cover and chill at least 3 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the casserole, uncovered, for 1 hour, or until the top is browned and the center is set. Remove the strata from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Share your favorite potluck recipe; send it, a short testimonial, your name, phone number and hometown to Jeanne Besser, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Eighth Floor, 72 Marietta St. NW, Atlanta, GA 30303. Or e-mail her at jbesser@ajc.com.

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