I am here to tell you that savory bread pudding may change your life. I remember the days when my cupboard was full of homemade bread crumbs and croutons made in a desperate attempt not to waste bread. They piled up and got increasingly creative (sriracha croutons, anyone?) but were never a smart answer to my problem. It can be a challenge for two people to use up a lot of bread, but sometimes you just want a slice with a bowl of soup at dinner, am I right? Flipping through a magazine one day, I found a recipe for savory bread pudding with winter squash and romano cheese; I made it soon after and it was a revelation. A great way to use up bread, heels and all, and it tasted fantastic– herby, cheesy, nutty from the squash. In the realm of casseroles, pasta bakes and quiches, savory bread pudding is comfort food done right. Endlessly adaptable, if you haven’t tried making one, you should.
My most recent bread pudding came as a result of bartered bread. As you may know, I’m part of a group called Backyard Barter; I come home from our monthly meetings laden with homegrown vegetables and fruit, eggs, soap, granola, canned goods, cookies, hard cider and so much more. At our last barter, there were three different loaves of bread I hoped to try and was lucky enough to receive in trades. One was a buttermilk & honey loaf, the second had molasses, rosemary and sesame seeds, and the third was one of the pillow-soft, fragrant sandwich loaves we love so much. That’s a lot of bread for two people, especially when acquired on a weekend full of birthday brunches and wedding dinners. We had a few slices of toast from the sandwich loaf for breakfast Monday and put the rest aside for bread pudding. I think I like them best made with an assortment of breads; whole wheat, oatmeal, sourdough, herbed loaves and even pumpernickel are good, alone or in combination. Day-old bread is even better than fresh, as it soaks up the custard without becoming completely soggy. My three bartered loaves provided an ideal mix of texture and flavor.
As for vegetables, you can add what you like. I often think of quiches I enjoy and use the ingredients of those as a flavor guide. Ham, spinach and Swiss cheese is a good combination, as is bacon, broccoli and cheddar. Because of the richness of the cheese and milk used, I usually make my bread pudding vegetarian, and the version I’m sharing today is my all-time favorite. Try playing with the combination of vegetables and cheese; as long as you stick with a melty cheese (like Gruyere, Swiss or cheddar) and the basic proportion of vegetables, you should be fine. For this recipe, I’ve used different kinds of mushrooms, replaced leeks with shallots and even substituted bok choy stems or fennel for the celery.
You can serve savory bread pudding as a comforting dinner or a side dish to go with roast chicken or a baked ham; it easily accommodates 6-8 people as an entree and many more as a side. It’s good left over and will keep for about a week in the refrigerator. My husband took some for lunch today to eat cold, just as you might eat cold quiche or pizza. If you’ve had bread pudding before, I’d love for you to comment and share your favorite combination of flavors.
Savory Bread Pudding with Mushrooms & Leeks
- 3 T. unsalted butter
- 2 c. sliced leeks, white and light green parts only (from 1 medium or 2 small leeks)
- 1/2 c. chopped celery (about 1 stalk)
- 2 c. chopped mushrooms (cremini, button, portabello or a mix)
- 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
- salt & pepper
- 4 large eggs
- 3 c. whole milk
- 12 oz. bread, preferably day-old, cut into 1″ cubes (about 6-7 c.)
- 1/2 c. Parmesan (or Romano) cheese, grated
- 1 c. Gruyere (or Swiss or cheddar) cheese, shredded
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a 9″ x 13″ glass or ceramic baking pan and set aside.
In a large skillet, melt 3 T. butter over medium heat. Add the celery and leeks to the pan and saute gently for about 8 mins. You don’t need them to brown or cook through, since they will bake for a good amount of time, but do want them to soften. Add the mushrooms to the pan and continue to cook for another 5 mins.; again, you’re looking to soften them more than gain any kind of color. Add the oregano to the vegetables and season well with salt and pepper; remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Add the cubed bread and press down until as much of the bread as possible is submerged. Allow this mixture to sit for at least 5 mins. and up to 15 mins. so the bread soaks up the custard.
To assemble the bread pudding, add the vegetable mixture and Parmesan cheese to the bread mixture and stir to combine. Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly; make sure to get any unabsorbed milk and egg into the dish, too. Sprinkle the shredded Gruyere cheese over the top. Bake for 45-50 mins., until the top is golden brown and the bread pudding is moist but not gooey. Serve immediately. To store, cool on a wire rack for at least 30 mins. and then wrap well and refrigerate.