Thursday, November 1, 2007

Improvising with Bread Pudding

One of the recipes that Beth and I jointly developed for improvisation is the savory bread pudding. It all started many years ago (at least 17, because I made this dish when Marion and I catered Natan's bris) with a Gourmet Magazine recipe for a sweet bread pudding. Having mastered it and made it our own, we forged ahead and adapted it for savory purposes. I stopped using a recipe a long time ago, and now feel comfortable just using the technique and throwing in whatever's around.

So, I had some squash in the house--a kabocha and a butternut--and they weren't getting any younger. And a big, stale loaf of crusty bread. And a large group of people coming for dinner in the Sukkah--yes, this was during Sukkot. So I tore the bread up into chunks, put them in a big bowl, covered them with cold water and let them soak. (If you're looking for a measurement, I think six cups of cubed bread is about right.) I peeled the two squash (squashes?) and laboriously cut them into biggish cubes (the only laborious part of the recipe). I then roasted the squash at 400 degrees with lots of whole garlic cloves and olive oil. While it was roasting, I sauteed a mess of leeks with rosemary (onions or shallots would have been perfectly acceptable, or any combination thereof; also sage would be a lovely alternative to the rosemary).

I drained and then squeezed as much water as possible out of the bread, and threw the mush into a big baking dish (Pampered Chef stoneware, Beth!). On top of this I tossed the leeks, the squash once it was done, and about a cup of grated cheddar. I mixed the whole thing through (taking care to mash up the squash a bit, and especially the roasted garlic cloves), then made a custard of milk and eggs and poured it on top. Probably 4 eggs and 2 cups of milk, but I'm not entirely sure. The key is to add enough milk and eggs so that everything is floating comfortably but NOT drowning or even completely covered in liquid. I'm sure I salted at some point, probably both the squash before I roasted it and the leeks while they were sauteeing.

The bread pudding goes into the oven at 350, uncovered, and bakes for a good long time. Probably at least 45 minutes. It's ready when the top is crusty and browned, and even the center of the dish is firm, not jiggly. It was beloved by all (except Elliot, who wouldn't touch it, but would you expect him to?), and it made great leftovers.

You can make a savory bread pudding with virtually any combination of vegetables and cheese. Two of my favorites are mushrooms with gruyere and spinach with goat cheese. The proportions aren't that important. Onion, to my mind, is crucial. But whatever vegetable is languishing in your fridge, it would probably make a great bread pudding, combined with those leftover heels of bread getting stale in your breadbox, and the bits of cheese crammed into the cheese drawer in your fridge. It's the perfect vehicle for all your odds and ends.

6 cups bread, roughly torn into cubes, soaked in cold water and drained

2-3 cups cooked vegetables

an onion or leek, sliced and sauteed until soft

cup of grated cheese

4 eggs

2 cups of milk

Combine in a baking dish, bake at 350 until firm with a crisp, brown top.


Beth Steinberg said...

I also made a nice bread pudding some time ago. It had been so long. Can't remember what type but it was a savory one.
Pays to post the whiskey sauce and a sweet variation one day as well. Lovely for the winter.

lisa k said...

I haven't made a sweet bread pudding in so long, I might have to dig up the recipe. Did we ever actually make the whiskey sauce?