Asparagus, Bacon and Gruyère Strata

Serves 6 as main dish, 8 as side dish.

Note: Strata is essentially a savory bread pudding that can be made the night before, a wonderful choice for entertaining. This cheesy version, loaded with fresh asparagus and flecks of bacon, could be a lovely light main dish on your holiday table, or an elegant side. Note: The recipe can easily be doubled and served in a 9- by 13-inch baking dish for a large crowd. From Meredith Deeds.

• 4 slices uncooked bacon, chopped

• 4 medium shallots, chopped (about 1 c.)

• 8 oz. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-1/2-in. pieces

• 5 eggs, beaten

• 1 1/2 c. milk

• 1/2 c. heavy cream

• 3/4 tsp. salt

• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

• 1/4 tsp. cayenne

• 1/2 loaf (about 8 oz.) rustic white bread (like Italian, ciabatta, French), cut into 1-in. cubes

• 1 1/2 c. shredded Gruyère cheese (about 6 oz.)

• 3 whole asparagus spears, trimmed, optional

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 1 1/2-quart baking dish.

In a 10-inch skillet, cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until browned. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined dish. Drain all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet.

Add shallots to the skillet and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add asparagus and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, stirring, until tender but still slightly crispy. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, salt, pepper and cayenne. Add the bread cubes and asparagus mixture and toss to coat.

Spread half of the bread mixture in the prepared baking dish, making sure to distribute ingredients evenly. Top with 3/4 cup cheese. Repeat with remaining bread mixture and cheese. Place whole asparagus spears, decoratively, on top of the strata. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until top is golden brown and knife inserted in center comes out clean. Let sit 15 minutes before serving.

Nutrition information per each of 8 servings:

Calories 330 Fat 19 g Sodium 665 mg

Carbohydrates 21 g Saturated fat 9 g Total sugars 6 g

Protein 17 g Cholesterol 165 mg Dietary fiber 2 g

Exchanges per serving: 1 starch, ½ carb, 2 medium-fat protein, 1 ½ fat.