Asparagus, Ramps and Baby Swiss Strata

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A strata is a kind of savory bread pudding and this one, inspired by a recipe in "Potager: Fresh Garden Cooking in the French Style," by Georgeanne Brennan (Chronicle Books, 1992), is comfort food at its finest. It's also a great way to use up stale bread. Serve it direct from the oven--when it is brown-tipped and slightly puffed--for brunch, lunch or dinner.



Trim and peel asparagus (or, if it is very thin, leave it unpeeled). Cut the spears on the diagonal into 3-inch pieces. Steam over boiling water 2 minutes, immerse in ice water and drain well.

Soak bread in 2 cups of the milk until softened, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a deep baking dish with 1-2 teaspoons of the butter. Gently press excess milk from bread into a bowl; beat in eggs, salt, pepper and remaining milk.

Layer one-third of the bread in baking dish. Set aside several asparagus tips for the top layer then scatter half the remaining asparagus over bread. Scatter half the ramps and half the cheese over asparagus. Repeat the layers, using half the remaining bread, all the asparagus (except reserved tips) and ramps, and half the cheese. Arrange remaining bread on top and scatter remaining cheese over it. Pour egg mixture over all, lightly pressing it into the bread. Cut the remaining butter into bits and scatter it over the top of the strata. Bake until puffed and brown-tipped, about 40 minutes, garnishing with reserved tips during final 15 minutes of baking. Serve immediately.

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