Food and cooking has always played a large role in my family. Over twenty years ago, my mom decided to create a cookbook compiling recipes from both sides of our extended families. That cookbook has been a go-to for my family’s meals ever since.
My aunt Terri submitted a delicious recipe for a sausage and cheddar breakfast casserole. Then for my cousin Michelle’s baby shower, her sister, Jennifer, put her spin on that casserole by making it with sausage, goat cheese, and carmelized onions. It was amazing! This gave me the idea to play around with fillings. I decided to take my husband’s favorite breakfast, the Western omelette, and turn it into a casserole.
I started with diced peppers and onions. Since the red pepper adds sweetness, I opted to use an Anaheim pepper instead of a green bell pepper. It has just a touch of heat and a nice, deep green color. To those, I added some yellow onion.
Ham steaks are inexpensive and flavorful. I bought one that was about 1.25 pounds, removed the bone, and trimmed the excess fat. Then I diced it into cubes. After a few trials, I settled on using two cups of ham. When I added more, the casserole became too salty.
I sauteed the vegetables and the ham before adding them to amplify the flavors and to draw out some of the moisture. Since the ham is already cooked and will continue to cook in the oven, make sure not to overdo it. Once you see a good bit of liquid in the pan, go ahead and take the ham off the heat.
While the vegetable and ham are cooking, go ahead and shred your cheese. Western omelettes are typically made with American cheese, but I did not think that would work well in a casserole. Instead, I used mild cheddar cheese, and the flavor was perfect!
You can now start layering in the ingredients. I start by removing the crusts from eight slices of white bread. The bread will absorb the egg mixture and just add some substance to the casserole. You will barely notice it’s there. If you want more of a “crust” you could use a layer of crescent rolls.
Once the bread is down, I add the ham, the vegetables, and then the cheese, spreading them out as evenly as possible.
My aunt’s original recipe called for six eggs, but I found that with the amount of filling in this casserole I really needed more. I ended up using 10 eggs beaten together with one cup of milk. You will slowly pour that mixture over the other ingredients, and you may need to tilt your dish around to get it to evenly spread out. The egg mixture will not completely cover the filling, but that is fine. The eggs will puff up when baked.
At this point, you will want to refrigerate the casserole overnight, or for at least six hours, so that the bread can soak up the egg mixture. Pull the casserole out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes, and up to an hour, prior to baking.
The casserole is done when a knife inserted in the center comes out cleanly. It may be a Western Omelette Casserole, but in our Southern house, it will always be served with a side of grits!
Western Omelette Casserole
Wash and dice the peppers and onions. Before dicing the ham, remove the bone and trim any visible fat. You want your cubes to be small, bite-sized pieces.
Add the canola oil to a pan over medium-high heat. Add the vegetables and cook for 3-5 minutes, until just beginning to brown. Remove from the pan and set aside.
To the same pan, add the diced ham. Cook for 3-5 minutes, allowing some moisture to release from the ham. Drain and allow to cool slightly.
While the other ingredients are cooking, shred the mild cheddar cheese. Beat the eggs together with the milk, salt, and black pepper. Remove the crusts from the slices of bread.
Start layering your ingredients into a greased 9” x 11” baking dish. Place the bread on the bottom, and then evenly spread out the ham, the vegetables, and finally the cheese. Slowly pour the egg mixture over the other ingredients. Tilt the pan around to make sure it’s spread out.The egg mixture will not completely cover the other ingredients. This is fine; it will puff up when baking.
Refrigerate overnight (or for at least six hours) before baking in order to allow the egg mixture to soak into the bread.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350℉. Pull the casserole out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes, or up to an hour, before baking.
Once the oven is heated, bake for 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out cleanly. Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving.