French Toast Casserole

2 tablespoons EVOO                                           

2 pounds breakfast sausage, casings removed

1 tablespoon thyme, finely chopped                    

3 to 4 leaves sage, finely chopped

1 tablespoon plus 1 stick butter, divided

1 loaf bread, cubed and toasted (5-6 cups)

1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped                     

2 apples, diced

12 large eggs, beaten                                          

1/2 cup maple syrup plus 1/4 cup

3 cups milk (or half and half)                             

2 teaspoons cinnamon

A few grates fresh nutmeg                       

Salt                 

Peel of 1 lemon          

1 cinnamon stick

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat with 2 turns of the pan with EVOO, about 2 tablespoons. Add in breakfast sausage, thyme and sage, and cook until crisp and golden brown. Let cool.  With 1 tablespoon of butter, generously grease a 9×13” casserole dish. In the dish, toss the sausage and herb mixture with cubed bread, pecans and apples.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, 1/2 cup maple syrup, milk, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt, and whisk until blended. Pour over the bread and sausage mixture, making sure it’s covered evenly. Cover with foil and place in the refrigerator overnight.  The next day, preheat the oven to 375ºF. Dot the top of the casserole with 1 stick of butter. Bake covered for 1 hour, until puffed and remove foil and bake uncovered until golden brown, around 15 minutes.  Over medium heat, in a small saucepot, combine 1/4 cup maple syrup, lemon peel and cinnamon stick until warmed through.  To serve, scoop casserole onto a plate and serve with warm maple syrup on top.

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