Savory bread puddings – and a Challenge

Ben and I traveled to see my father and his wife in Virginia last week, and my father and I always enjoy cooking together. He had a couple racks of lamb to cook on the grill and asparagus, and we set to work figuring out what to make. Here is what we came up with: Grilled Rack of Lamb with a porcini mushroom, red wine sauce, and Grilled Bread Puddings with asparagus, dried apricots, and truffle oil. Dessert would be Cinnamon-Basil ice cream (we got the idea after a meal at Beacon Hill Bistro).

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The sauce for the lamb is straighforward, versatile, and easily modified.

Rustic mushroom sauce

1/4 lb of chopped pancetta (bacon or ham would be a fine substitution)

1 medium onion, diced

1 garlic clove, minced

2 oz of dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated in hot water, water reserved

3/4 cup red wine

3/4 cup beef stock

1 medium tomato, chopped

2 Tb basil, chopped

Over medium-high heat, cook the pancetta until some of the fat renders out. Add the onions and garlic, and cook until onions are translucent, about 7-8 mins. Squeeze the porcini to get the water out and add them to the pan. Cook for a few minutes, and then add the red wine. Let it bubble away, reducing the wine to a 1/4 cup. Then add the stock, reducing the liquid to 1/2  cup. Then add 1/2 cup of the reserved mushroom water (which will be a dark color, with an incredible earthy smell – go ahead and drink some). Continue reducing until the sauce is slightly thickened. At this point, you can remove from the heat and reheat it later when you’re ready to serve. To continue, add the tomato and basil and cook until the tomato has released its juices and reduced a bit more. Salt and pepper to taste. Slice the lamb (or pork tenderloin also works well), and serve on top of the sauce.

[The pork tenderloin works well with that sauce. I made a quick crust for the tenderloin, which while tender, lacks the flavor of other porkcuts, due to its lack of fat. I finely chopped 3 Tbs of fresh rosemary, added 2 Tbs of freshly ground peppercorns, and 1 Tbs of salt. Then rolled the meat around the mixture and let it sit for a few hours. Cooked on the grill to an internal temp of 145°F (never hotter!!) and let it sit for 10 mins. Sliced and served. Awesome.]

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The bread pudding idea came to us in a moment that was as if the Angel of Food had kissed us all full on the mouth.The beauty of this approach is you can modify the additions to suit the meal and the season.

Grilled Savory Bread Pudding

Makes 6

4-5 cups of bread (french, sourdough, italian – as long as it is good, and day old works better)

1 bunch of asparagus (2-3 cups)

1.5-2 cups dried apricots, soaked in warm water for 15-30 mins

3 cups milk

3 Tbs butter

3 eggs, beaten

Juice of 1 lemon

Cayenne pepper to taste

Truffle oil for ramekins

The bread will be better if a little stale, but I’ve used fresh bread every time I’ve made it, no problem. Leave the bread in slices that will be easy to handle on the grill. Trim the tough ends of the asparagus, cover them in a bit of oil, and head to the grill. Over a hot grill, cook the asparagus until it has just a little bite left to it. Toast the bread untilit has color and grill smell. Carefully grill the dried apricots (they might fall through the grate depending on your grill). Cook them until puffed and black in spots. They will not taste like burn-iness. They will taste like apricot caramels. It is amazing. Chop the asparagus and the apricots to 1 inch pieces.

Heat the milk and butter over medium heat until butter melts. Add cayenne pepper (I’ve done various amounts. You just want a hint of heat, not too noticeable. You can add more later if necessary; start with 1/8 tsp). Cube the bread (1/2 inch cubes are good) and in a large bowl pour milk mixture over the bread. Be sure that the milk just covers the bread. You can add some if it doesn’t. Then add the beaten eggs and mix. Mix in the asparagus, apricots, lemon juice, salt, pepper. If you aren’t skittish about eating raw eggs, taste the mixture for salt, pepper, cayenne.

I use tall ramekins for this. They are 14 oz – bought them from Williams and Sonoma for an inappropriate amount ($16 each). But I love them. Add a couple tsps of truffle oil to each and rub it all over the sides of the ramekin. Rub the rest on your face. Don’t wipe your hands off, lick them off. Truffle oil…. Then add the bread mixture until they are almost full, leaving some room for them to puff up. Place them in a roasting pan with hot water that comes half way up the side of the ramekins. This is to be sure they cook evenly. Cook in the upper third of a 350° oven for 50-55 minutes. They are done when golden on top and a knife comes out clean. Let them rest for 5-10 minutes to cool, then run a knife around the edges to loosen. Turn upside down to slide it out, and use a spatula to turn them back over. Enjoy.

These were perfect. The bitter asparagus, sweet apricots, earthy truffle, creamy bread, slight heat and slight acidity from the cayenne and lemon, these were balanced in every way.

The Savory Bread Pudding Challenge

But now the fun part – what else can we put in them? Comment with your ideas (we’ve been thinking about black mission figs and ham). I’ll make the most interesting suggestions and have a panel taste them. Whoever has the best suggestion will be the Savory Bread Pudding Champion, and I’ll send you a prize (Perhaps truffle related?)!

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And for dessert: Cinnamon-Basil Ice cream.

This might have been the best homemade ice cream I’ve ever had. We followed this Basil ice cream recipe, and added 2 tsp of ground cinnamon during the first step. It will taste too cinnamon-y when hot, but after it cools and freezes, unbelievable. You can taste cinnamon and basil equally, not blended, for a combination you never thought would work. We ate ours with almond cookies and spicy chocolate.

Coming soon: Gougeres with a Truffled Mornay Sauce, Rooftop garden gazpacho, and the perfect granita recipe!

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One Response to Savory bread puddings – and a Challenge

  1. Sara says:

    How about jalapenos and peaches. Or something with dried cherries, now that you have 4 lbs of them! Dried cherries are good in everything.

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