Eric Akis: Bread pudding, Italian style

Eric Akis

I routinely get recipe or column requests from Times Colonist readers and they can really vary. Recently, a reader asked if I had a good recipe for pork belly. Another wondered if I could provide strategies for cooking with less meat. Yet another reader asked if had a recipe for a wrap or bun that could be frozen and reheated at an outdoor event.

I will be writing about those and other queries in future columns. But today, I’m finally getting around to dishing up a recipe for mushroom bread pudding that a reader named Shelley requested some time ago. It’s a dish she tried in a restaurant and she wanted a scaled-down version to make at home.

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When researching recipes for this style of savoury bread pudding, I discovered all were pretty similar. Toasted cubes of bread, sautéed mushrooms and a beaten egg mixture were combined and baked in a casserole until set and rich golden on top.

How they varied was in what was added to complement those key ingredients — herbs, vegetables, tangy cheese and/or some type of cured meat.

You could say I dressed up my recipe for mushroom bread pudding “Italian-style.” Along with leeks and other vegetables, I added such things as oregano, basil, prosciutto and Italian-style cheese.

To give the bread pudding a diverse mushroom flavour, I used a mix of the fresh ones you can buy at most supermarkets, including brown (cremini), white, oyster and shiitake mushrooms.

When they are sliced, it will look as if you have too many mushrooms for the 13-by-nine-inch dish it’s baked in. But when you sauté them before adding them to the cubed-bread mixture, moisture will evaporate, their volume will greatly reduce and their flavours will concentrate.

You can serve the mushroom bread pudding as a brunch or lunch dish with a side salad. You could also serve it as a side dish for a dinner entrée, such as roast chicken, turkey, pork or beef, or a large, thick beef steak that you’ve seared, sliced and served family style on a platter.

You can make elements of the bread pudding many hours in advance — toasting the bread, blending the egg mixture and sautéeing and cooling the mushroom mixture. Keep the latter two items refrigerated until you are ready to mix everything together and bake the pudding.

My recipe serves eight. If you have any leftovers, they could be reheated and enjoyed the next day or two, perhaps topped with a poached egg and served as a deluxe breakfast with slices of ripe tomato.

Mushroom Bread Pudding with Leeks, Prosciutto and Asiago

This rich and savoury version of bread pudding can be served as an entrée for brunch or lunch with a side salad. It can also be served as a dinner side dish for a roast or steak.

Preparation time: 40 minutes
Cooking time: About 80 minutes
Makes: Eight servings

6 cups Italian or French bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (see Note 1)

3 Tbsp olive oil, plus some for the dish

1 1/2 lb. assorted fresh mushrooms, sliced (see Note 2)

2 cups diced leeks, white and pale green parts only (see Note 3)

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup grated carrot

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried basil

6 paper-thin slices prosciutto, thinly sliced, widthwise

5 large eggs

1 (250 mL) container whipping cream

3/4 cup milk

1 cup chicken stock or broth

175 grams Asiago cheese, grated (about 2 cups/divided)

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 to 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 375 F. Set bread cubes in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake bread in the middle of the oven until lightly toasted and very pale golden, about 18 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Place 3 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet or wide-bottomed pot set over medium, medium-high heat (my pan was 12 inches wide). Add mushrooms and leeks, season with salt and pepper, and cook and stir until mushrooms are very tender and the moisture has evaporated, about 10 minutes.

Add carrot, garlic, oregano and basil to the pan and cook and stir one minute more.

Remove pan from the heat and cool mushroom mixture to room temperature.

Crack eggs into a large mixing bowl and beat until yolks and whites are well blended.

Whisk in the cream, milk and stock (or broth) and season mixture with salt and pepper. Mix in the mushroom mixture, bread cubes, prosciutto and two-thirds of the Asiago cheese. Let the mixture sit 15 minutes to allow the bread to absorb some of the liquid.

Preheat oven to 375 F again. Lightly brush the inside of a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with olive oil. Stir the bread mixture in the bowl again and then spoon into the baking dish.

Sprinkle the top of the mushroom bread pudding with the remaining Asiago cheese and the Parmesan cheese. Bake in the middle of the oven 45 to 50 minutes, or until the pudding is golden on top and the egg mixture is set. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Note 1: Crusty on the outside, fairly soft in the centre Italian and French bread are sold at most supermarkets. About half to two thirds of a 454-gram loaf should yield the cubed bread needed here. Don’t use a dense and heavy style of bread for the pudding, as it won’t soak up and marry well with the other ingredients.

Note 2: I used a roughly equal mix of brown (cremini), white, oyster and shiitake mushrooms. They are sold at most supermarkets. Remove and discard the tough stems from the shiitake mushrooms before slicing the caps. Trim off the tough lower stems from the oyster mushrooms before slicing them.

Note 3: Diced means to cut into 1/4-inch cubes. One medium to large leek should yield the amount needed here. Save the tough, upper part of the leek for soup stock.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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