Learn more about the development of this recipe in my related post What we’re having for Thanksgiving (instead of stuffing): Savory Bread Pudding
This savory bread pudding would be a wonderful dish to serve at your Thanksgiving meal, and is also excellent as a cozy and fuss-free brunch the next morning topped with an egg. The kale on the surface crisps up in the oven, leaving you with kale chips studding the top. It can be assembled the day before and brought to room temperature before baking, if you wish.
Note: The bread cubes must be very dry to better absorb flavors and to avoid a soggy texture. Use bread that is a few days old. If possible, cut into cubes, spread them out on a tray, and leave out uncovered overnight to use the following day. You can also dry out the bread cubes quickly by spreading on a baking sheet and placing in a 350 degree (177°C) oven for about 20 minutes, or until dry and pale gold.
Special Equipment: Large skillet, Dutch Oven with lid, 13 x 9 x 2.5 inch baking dish, fine grater such as Microplane
8 ounces applewood smoked bacon,
cut crosswise into 1/4 inch strips
1 pound mixed mushrooms, such as shitake, oyster, maitake,
woody stems removed, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, divided
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves, divided
Salt and Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine, divided
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
2 stalks celery, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch kale (about 1 pound), such as lacinato/dinosaur,
stemmed, chopped into 1 1/2 inch strips, washed thoroughly
1 1/2 cups whole cooked peeled chestnuts, quartered
12 ounces dry crusty country-style white bread,
cut into 1 inch cubes (about 9 cups) (See Note)
1 1/2 cup finely shredded gruyère cheese (3 ounces), divided
4 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C), with rack in middle position.
- Crisp the bacon: In a large skillet over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp and browned, about 12 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Pour off about half the rendered bacon fat and set aside.
- Cook the mushrooms in batches: To the skillet with bacon fat, add half of the mushrooms in a single layer, 1 teaspoon thyme leaves, 1/2 teaspoon minced rosemary leaves, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Cook undisturbed for about 5 minutes, then stir once every few minutes until mushrooms are deeply golden, about 7 to 10 minutes more. Add 1/4 cup of white wine to the pan, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom, until nearly dry, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside. Repeat with reserved bacon fat, remaining mushrooms, herbs, and wine. Transfer sautéed mushrooms to the large bowl. Sprinkle sherry vinegar over the mushrooms and toss to incorporate. Wipe out skillet, if necessary.
- Cook the vegetables: Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the empty skillet, and heat until just smoking. Add the onions, celery, and salt to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally until softened, about 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer the onions and celery to the large bowl with the mushrooms. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and minced garlic in a large dutch oven over medium heat until just smoking. Add kale (it should still have a good amount of water clinging to the leaves), cover, and cook until wilted, about 7 to 9 minutes. Transfer kale to the large bowl.
- Combine: Add the dry bread cubes, chestnuts, and reserved bacon to the bowl with the mushrooms and vegetables. Toss gently to incorporate evenly (You may need to divide the contents with another bowl if they don’t fit).
- Prepare the custard base: In a medium bowl, add the eggs and beat lightly. Add the cream, milk, broth, a pinch of nutmeg, several turns of freshly grated black pepper, and a large pinch of salt. Whisk to blend well.
- Assemble: Divide the grated gruyere cheese into 4 roughly equal portions. Sprinkle 1st portion of cheese evenly over the bottom of a 13 x 9 x 2.5 inch baking dish. Add half of the bread mixture and top evenly with 2nd portion of cheese. Add remaining bread mixture and top evenly with 3rd portion of cheese.Pour the custard base evenly over contents of baking dish. It should come within 1 inch of top of bread mixture. Press the topmost bread cubes down to saturate with custard base and let soak for about 15 minutes (Refrigerate at this point if making ahead. Bring to room temperature before continuing). Sprinkle the 4th portion of cheese evenly over the top.
- Bake: Bake in preheated oven on middle rack until top is browned and bubbling and custard is set, about 50 to 60 minutes. Let rest for about 5 minutes before serving.
Serves 10-12 as a side dish.
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