Some of greatest food I’ve ever had the pleasure of indulging in has been found in the most unsuspecting places. I’m sure we all know of a hidden restaurant gem or two that serves a dish so amazing that we can’t wait to go back for more or, in my case, it is talked about for years afterward.
Food can be extremely sentimental for me, so sometimes it’s tough to distinguish between great memories and a great meal. A year ago I had a chance to revisit one of my favorite childhood pizza places and enjoy what I remembered to be a most amazing pizza. I’m happy to report that both the memories and the pizza were even better than I could have hoped.
Smack dab in the middle of Montana sits the friendly and beautiful community of Lewistown. It’s the main hub, of sorts, for the surrounding farming towns, but you don’t just pass through Lewistown for the heck of it. It’s not really on the way to anywhere, so if you find yourself there it’s likely for a reason. But, if you happen to make the trip, a stop at Little Big Men Pizza is a must. It’s a family-owned shop that opened roughly 40 years ago that serves hand-crafted pizzas that would rival any you could find elsewhere. The walls of the restaurant are filled with taxidermy and high school photos from years gone by, and drinks are served by the pitcherful. It’s not just great food, but a great experience.
Hands-down my favorite pizza in the entire universe is Little Big Men’s Colorado Claimjumper. It’s a hearty, spicy pizza made from ground beef, bacon, onions and hot cheese. It sounds simple, and maybe it is, but the flavor is out of this world. I’ve tried many times to recreate it, but have never been able to pull it off. So, I save the Colorado Claimjumper pizza experience for the rare trips I get to make back to Lewistown.
Instead, I decided to let those flavors inspire me to create other recipes like the one below. Barn Burner Breakfast Casserole is a Colorado Claimjumper-inspired casserole that is savory and hearty enough to be enjoyed for either breakfast or supper. And, like any great breakfast casserole should, it can be made ahead of time for those of us who don’t like to get up at the crack of dawn to prepare breakfast. It is a wee bit spicy (depending on your pepper tolerance), so use a dollop of sour cream to cool it off, or top with your favorite salsa for some extra heat. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
BARN BURNER BREAKFAST CASSEROLE
- Cook Time: 45 min
- Persons: 8
- Difficulty: Easy
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 pound hot ground sausage
- 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 dozen large eggs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 16 ounces pepper jack cheese, grated
- 1 loaf Italian bread, diced
- sour cream for garnish, optional
- chopped green onion for garnish, optional
- hot salsa for garnish, optional
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, brown ground beef and sausage. Drain, if necessary.
- Add onions and crushed red pepper. Cook until onions are tender and translucent.
- In a large bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, salt and pepper.
- To assemble:
Generously butter a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish. Layer half of the bread cubes in the bottom of the pan. Top with half of the meat mixture and half of the cheese. Repeat with remaining bread, meat and cheese. Carefully pour egg mixture over the top and cover. Allow to rest for 30 minutes before baking.
- Uncover and bake in preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes or until center is set and edges are bubbly. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy topped with sour cream, green onions and salsa, if desired.
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