If you are currently jockeying with family or friends for an annual event to host, you should absolutely be fighting for the right to nab brunch. Brunch is the unsung hero of affairs, the sleeper hit of the shindigs. Lunches and dinners require so much more than godly cleanliness. It is not enough to be cleaning, cooking, and wearing pants—you now have to consider guest towels and decorative soaps. Brunch? It’s cool if your house is just a little bit messy. We’re just chillin’ all cazh, no need to hurry or get to anything, just enjoying the day. Nobody’s got the time to be uptight when they’ve got an excuse to drink vodka and eat a Brunch Baked Ziti Benedict Casserole at 10 a.m. Brunch sounds warm and hospitable, yet expectations are lower than other holidays.
Consider your other choices:
Thanksgiving. You've seen this on TV, pored over a thousand magazines designed to make you think that hosting this feast will be the single most soul-defining moment of your life. What food pros know that you don’t: You will screw this up. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got every Thanksgiving edition of Martha Stewart Living dating back to 1984, or own a closet full of holiday-themed china you’ve been collecting to use only one day a year. Thanksgiving calls for a multitude of dishes that are all supposed to be prepared in the oven, so you’ve already been set up to fail. You may knock 95 percent of things out of the park, but one thing—inevitably someone’s absolute favorite dish—will end in disaster. Regardless of your successes, you will be able to see nothing but scowls and utter disappointment for the entire night. Don’t do this to yourself. Let some other idiot claim this one and allow yourself to be the party disappointed over improperly creamed pearl onions.
July 4th, Memorial Day, or any other “barbecue” holiday. These always seem like a such a fun idea until family gets wasted from drinking in the sun and pour potato salad and barbecue sauce all over your lawn. Then the ants come. They inch closer and closer to the house every minute. You will spend days trying to destroy any barbecue residue that may be hiding the crevices of your property, but you’ll never find them all. But the ants will. And they are coming for you.
Mother’s Day. I have two kids and I do not want to be doing jack shit on Mother’s Day, so if you make me dress up and come to your house to have “a light luncheon” I will punch you right in your Pinterest-loving face.
You want to score brunch. It doesn’t matter the holiday, it doesn’t even need to be a holiday, you just need to get people over once a year and write a big fat “X” in the “annual gathering” box on your proper adulting checklist. For one, you don’t have to dress fancy. I’ll wear nice pajamas, because I did not go out and spend all that money on them to have no one understand how good I look in them. Wearing pants in my own house is my person equivalent of black-tie, so this is an all around win for me, and everyone who has to look at me. It’s my time to shine in so many ways.
The biggest problem with hosting brunch is that many breakfasts need to be made hot to order. Yes, there are fritters and baked French toast, but where’s the WOW factor? Where’s the “Oh my, what’s this? This most certainly takes my mind off the lack butterfly-shaped geranium soaps in the bathroom!”
Everyone is impressed by eggs Benedict, but it’s a pain in the ass to make even without the crowd factor. Luckily, that’s hackable. There’s no reason we can’t take those same exact flavors, use them in a different way, and add the most important element in the world, the element of surprise!
Baked pastas are the answer to most cooking-for-a-crowd-quagmires, so why not use it here? You can even make this the night before so you can sleep in, or spend a little bit more time primping to make people believe that you really do look that good in the morning.
Barbecues are for suckers. Brunch is the answer.
Baked Pasta Benedict
1 pound ziti (or pasta of your choice)
1 15-ounce tub ricotta cheese
1 ¼ cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
Zest of 4 lemons
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
8 ounces ham or Canadian bacon, chopped
1 pound asparagus
½ pound provolone, sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
How to Make It
In heavily salted water, cook the pasta halfway. If you cook the pasta fully now, it will be overcooked mush after you bake it, so stop it a bit ahead of al dente. Drain, then rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Cut the asparagus into ½-inch pieces, and put on a microwave-safe plate covered with three damp paper towels. Microwave for three minutes to steam
Whisk together ricotta cheese, Dijon mustard, eggs, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, and pepper (seasonings can be adjusted to taste).
In a 9 x 13 pan, put mix together half the pasta, half the asparagus, half the bacon, and three slices of provolone, torn into small pieces. Pour enough of the egg custard over to cover. Mix together the remaining pasta, asparagus, and bacon, then fill the rest of the pan, spreading evenly.
Line a baking sheet with foil (for easy cleaning), and put the pasta pan on top. Pull out the middle rack of the oven, put the pan down on it, and pour the remaining custard over the top. Carefully slide back in and bake for one hour, until the dish is set. At this point, you may refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, preheat the broiler to high. Arrange the remaining provolone slices on top of the pasta, and slide under the broiler until brown and bubbly.