Every meal I’ve had out lately has had one thing in common: Asparagus, asparagus and more asparagus. OK, so there has been some rhubarb in there too, even popping up in savory dishes, but the the big scene-stealing diva has been asparagus, and I’ve been happy to see her. At home I have been roasting it, steaming it and even eating it straight from the crisper. It is soooo tender and sweet right now. But if you are looking for a way to incorporate it into a main dish or hearty side, this super simple savory bread pudding recipe is as fine a place as any to start.
You can custom tailor this recipe a bit: Use whatever bread you have on hand (even a hearty whole grain bread works wonderfully), pick your cheeses (I used chevre and emmental), and choose your herbs (for some reason, the mix of tarragon and asparagus makes me happy like no other). Bread puddings are wonderfully rough and tumble affairs, not at all prissy in preparation. But if you want to make the final presentation slightly more elegant than rustic, use a springform pan and remove the ring before serving and you’ll have more of a “cake” than a casserole.
2 tablespoons olive oil or unsalted butter
2 small leeks, dark green removed, cleaned well and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
3 cups milk
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound dry bread torn into cubes
1/2 pound mixed cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (chives, parsley, tarragon, chervil)
Salt and pepper (freshly ground) to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Over medium heat in a skillet, melt the butter with a splash of water and braise the leeks for about 10 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool.
2. In a large bowl, combine the eggs and milk, then the rest of the ingredients and the leeks. Gently toss to combine ingredients, but don’t stir so much that the bread falls apart.
3. Spread the mixture into a 4-quart baking dish, or any baking dish large enough to hold everything. You can also use a springform pan, as mentioned above, for a more elegant presentation.
4. Bake for 50 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly and serve.