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LOST ITALIAN: Biscuit casserole passes brunch test

Biscuits and Gravy Breakfast Casserole served with garnish.David Samson / The Forum1 / 4
Dust browned sausage with 3 tablespoons of flour.David Samson / The Forum2 / 4
Parsley, dices yellow onion, baby bella mushrooms and dry sherry are the ingredients for Biscuits and Gravy Breakfast Casserole.David Samson / The Forum3 / 4
David Samson / The Forum4 / 4

FARGO — We love brunch, and are always on the hunt for new recipes to test. A good brunch recipe should be big on flavor and able to serve at least six people, and simple enough to make that it can be easily doubled for larger groups. Since brunch is typically a more elegant version of breakfast, a bit of wow factor is also important. This week's Biscuits and Gravy Casserole hits all of those notes and more.

This recipe came to us by way of my sister-in-law, another Sarah, who found it on a blog called Lemon-Sugar and has been serving it to her family for several years. The original recipe seemed almost too easy, consisting only of a can of biscuits, ground pork sausage, flour, milk, salt and pepper. Could something so basic really be worthy of all the great raves it'd received from Sarah and her family?

As it turns out, yes. Upon making it the first time, my family fell in love with this new breakfast dish, which was easy to make, hearty and delicious. The second time I made it, I decided to play a bit and added some onions, mushrooms and fresh parsley, to boost the overall depth of flavor.

On impulse, I threw in a couple tablespoons of dry sherry, an inexpensive fortified wine we keep in our pantry for occasions just like this. The sherry turned out to be a perfect fit for this recipe, adding not only depth, but also complexity to the dish.

These additional ingredients took this gravy from being good to great, and added just a few more minutes of preparation time to an already quick-to-make dish. To start, cut each biscuit into quarters. Next, grease a small casserole dish, approximately 7 by 10 inches, and fill the bottom of the dish with half of the quartered biscuits, saving the other half for later. The biscuits bake in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes, and will rise and fill out as they bake, so leave some space between each quarter.

The gravy can be prepared while the biscuits are baking, and if you're at all intimidated by making gravy (those lumps!), you'll love this next trick as much we did. Unlike most gravies that require a roux to thicken, this recipe only requires 3 tablespoons of flour, which are added to the cooked sausage before the rest of the ingredients. Stir the meat and flour together until well incorporated, then continue cooking over medium-low heat for another three minutes, which allows for any residual flour taste to dissipate.

Next, add the milk, diced yellow onion, sliced mushrooms and dry sherry, then continue cooking over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the gravy reaches a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to low and keep cooking until the gravy is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, but still slightly runny, as it will continue to thicken as the casserole bakes. Stir in the fresh parsley just when the gravy is ready, so that it retains its bright green color.

Pour the gravy over the baked biscuit quarters, then top the casserole with the remaining biscuits and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown and the gravy is bubbling.

Gio calls this biscuits and gravy casserole a "savory delight," Tony calls it a "10 out of 10," and I call it a winner, especially for those upcoming holiday weekends when the family is all together.

Biscuits and Gravy Casserole

Serves: 6 to 8

Ingredients

1 can large, flaky biscuits (like Grands)

½ to ¾ pound ground pork sausage (depending on preference)

3 tablespoons flour

¼ cup diced onions

¼ sliced mushrooms

1 to 2 tablespoons dry sherry

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (to cook the onions and mushrooms)

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Grease a small casserole dish, 7 by 10 inches, with butter or cooking spray. Open the biscuits and cut each one into quarters. Layer half of the quarters in the greased pan, leaving a little space between each quarter. Bake for 10 minutes, until golden brown.

Meanwhile, prepare the gravy. In a frying pan over medium heat, brown the ground sausage until fully cooked.

As the sausage cooks, in a separate pan, sauté the onions and mushrooms in vegetable oil over medium-low heat, until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms soften somewhat and become aromatic; set aside.

Sprinkle the flour evenly over the cooked sausage, and stir in until completely absorbed. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 3 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly, to remove the flour flavor.

Add milk and stir to combine. Add the cooked onions and mushrooms, and a tablespoon of dry sherry and continue cooking over medium-low heat until the mixture reaches a gentle boil. Taste and add another tablespoon of sherry if desired, then stir in the salt and pepper. Adjust seasoning as desired.

The gravy will thicken, but should still be a bit runny as it will continue to thicken whilst baking in the oven. If the gravy becomes too thick, add more milk, one tablespoon at a time.

Once the gravy has reached the desired consistency, stir in the chopped parsley, then pour the entire mixture over the baked biscuits. Top with the remaining, uncooked quartered biscuits.

Place casserole dish on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes until the biscuits are golden brown and the gravy is hot and bubbling. To prevent over-browning, cover the top with tin foil after the first 10 to 15 minutes in the oven. Serve immediately.

Sarah's tips

— For a simplified version, skip any or all of the onions, mushrooms, sherry and parsley.

The gravy can be prepared in advance and refrigerated for up to three days before serving, or frozen for up to three months.

— To double the recipe, use a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish, and add 5 tablespoons of flour instead of 3.

— For another version, skip the casserole and bake the biscuits whole, then serve hot biscuits smothered in the sausage gravy.

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