Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Holiday Simplicity, With or Without Snow

Savory Bread Pudding of Local Ingredients

As a chef, I don’t have much time to cook at home during the holidays. Unfortunately, I’m always compelled to provide my best – I mean, what would people say? I can’t tell you how many times I have labored over a holiday meal, 8-9 courses serving up to 12 people.

I don’t let them see all the work, most of which is preparation and takes place late at night or early in the morning. So my friends think I can whip up a feast without much effort, but I end up a little tired of food by the time everything hits the table.

Years of holidays like this, and I finally decided it was time to simplify. What could I make that looks and tastes impressive but takes minutes instead of hours?

That’s how I came up with this simple preparation for bread pudding. This version draws on the best ingredients available locally over the holidays, including leeks and onions, and some of our eggs, milk, butter, blue cheese, and bread.

The best part – you can make it in advance and reheat – serve it at home or take it to a party as a covered dish.

But don’t tell your friends how easy it is to make (really, it’s a lot easier than the recipe looks). Let them think you were up early building the layers of flavor.

Steven


Preparation:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Put aside 2-3 quart baking or casserole dish

Yield: 8 side dish portions

Ingredients:

3 yellow onions: peel, cut in half, and julienne
4 leeks: cut in half lengthwise, slice into ½ inch moons
1 head garlic: peel and slice thin

2 tbsp olive oil or butter or a combination of the two
1 tsp oil or butter to grease the baking dish
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
A few pinches of ground nutmeg
6 oz or more (as much as you like for your cheesy friends) blue cheese
5 slices of bread: ¾ inches thick slices, cut or torn into non-uniform pieces. Bread pudding is traditionally made with brioche or other egg bread, but you can also use a country bread that is “chewy” or airy and not dense so that it will absorb the liquid.
4 cups of whole milk
2 eggs

Over medium high heat, warm a heavy sauté pan or Dutch oven. Add oil. When oil is heated, add onions and salt. Cook or “sweat” the onions for 5 minutes or until nearly translucent, stirring a few times. Next, add the leeks and continue to sweat for another 3-4 minutes. Last, add the garlic and continue to sweat for another 3 minutes. The leeks, onions, and garlic should not brown to much, just slightly caramelize. Total 11-12 minutes cooking time. Remove from heat.

Whisk the eggs and milk together in a large bowl with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Grease the baking dish or casserole with a teaspoon of butter or oil.

Assembly: start with a layer of the onion and leeks on the bottom. Add bread, then over the bread crumble about a third of the cheese. Repeat until all the ingredients are added. Ladle the egg and milk custard over the vegetable mixture. Cover with foil like a tent – not a tarp! You don’t want the cheese sticking.

Bake on a cookie sheet for 30-45 minutes or until it looks set with no bubbles. Remove the foil and let brown for about 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and impress!

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

This sounds delicious!