Easter breakfast - keep it hearty but not hectic

April 7, 2023

This week is busy with holiday celebrations. Wednesday at sundown began the observance of Passover, and Sunday marks the celebration of Easter. The first of these, Passover or Pesach, is a weeklong festival that commemorates the Israelites’ escape from Egypt thousands of years ago. The name refers to how the firstborn sons were “passed over,” avoiding death. At the heart of Passover is a special meal called a Seder, where the elements on the menu represent specific elements of the history of Passover. Most familiar of these is matzah, an unleavened bread the fleeing Jews had to carry with them since they couldn’t wait for their bread to rise.

The Christian celebration of Easter commemorates the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead three days after he was crucified. Many consider this one of the most important dates on the Christian calendar, marking Jesus’ victory over death and the promise of everlasting life for his followers. Some believe the name derives from the pagan goddess Eostre, who was connected to the beginning of spring as well as symbols of rebirth and renewal.

Typical Easter traditions revolve around decorating eggs, which have long been symbols of fertility. You can find many references to rituals celebrating the vernal equinox in almost every culture, and most of these include the egg as a symbol of rebirth, from the ancient Egyptians who exchanged decorated eggs, to medieval Europeans who gave eggs to their servants, to the hardboiled egg on the Jewish Seder plate at Passover. For those who gave up eggs for Lent, boiling the eggs their hens continued to lay would have given them a generous supply by Eastertide.

Menus for an Easter dinner often feature lamb, echoing the phrase “lamb of God” to refer to Jesus and the sacrificial nature of his death. Other holiday main courses include baked ham, a treat after a long winter without fresh meat, when the specially stored, smoked ham was brought to the table. Side dishes can run the gamut of family favorites such as macaroni and cheese, glazed carrots or fingerling potatoes.

My one piece of advice about going out for breakfast or brunch on Easter Sunday is to avoid it at all costs. Restaurants are certain to be crowded, staff overworked and the food not necessarily in abundant supply. I’ve heard several stories about people making their first trip to the buffet table to find some dishes already empty. As you may suspect, offering a buffet, instead of table service, leaves the guests to do the work to assemble their meals.

For the early meal of the day, I would recommend preparing a colorful fruit salad and warm croissants (see photo) to serve alongside a breakfast casserole large enough to feed your entire family. Recipes for these dishes come in two different types; one is made with packaged, shredded hash browns, and the other uses stale bread as the key carbohydrate. I’ve included instructions for making both versions. One begins prep the night before, and the other can be layered together the morning you plan to serve it.

While one recipe calls for bacon and the other sausage, the ingredients can vary according to your preferences, including which type of cheese and meat element (or none) is your family’s favorite. No matter your menu, here’s hoping you enjoy a happy holiday!

Bread Breakfast Casserole

1 lb bulk breakfast sausage
1 T butter
8 oz sliced mushrooms
1 stale baguette
8 eggs
2 1/2 C grated Cheddar cheese
2 C milk
1 T parsley
1/4 C sliced green onion

The night before: Place the sausage in a skillet and cook over medium heat, using a spatula to break up the sausage. Cook until dry and crumbled; drain excess fat and set aside. In another skillet, melt butter and sauté mushrooms until they’re golden and moisture has evaporated; set aside. Cut the baguette into slices and then in half-circles; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until smooth. Add cheese, milk, parsley, and green onion. Stir to combine; set aside. Coat the inside of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. In the prepared pan, toss together sausage, mushrooms and bread. Pour the egg mixture evenly across the pan. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight. The next morning: Preheat oven to 350 F. Remove foil and bake casserole until golden and set, about 65 minutes. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

Hashbrown Breakfast Casserole

16 oz-package refrigerated hash browns
1/2 lb bacon
2 C shredded Cheddar cheese
6 eggs
1/2 C half and half
1 T snipped chives
1/2 t white pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat the inside of a 9-by-9-inch casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Spread the hash browns evenly across the bottom of the pan; set aside. Cook bacon until crisp; transfer to paper towel to drain, then crumble evenly across the hash browns. Sprinkle cheese evenly over the casserole. Whisk together eggs, half and half, chives and pepper. Pour egg mixture evenly over the casserole. Bake until eggs are set, about 45 minutes. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before cutting. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

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