Thursday, January 31, 2008
buttermilk olive bread pudding with brussel sprouts and parmesan
Every week or so I play a game. It's called "What Do I Need to Use Before It Mutates Into a New Life Form?"
Usually it's not too bad. I can only carry so much home with me after a grocery run, so I tend to only buy enough for two or three days' worth of cooking. It means I make more frequent trips, but I like grocery shopping, especially after a particularly grueling day of class. Food is something I understand.
Sometimes though, a recipe catches my eye. I end up with a jar of agave nectar, or I think, "Surely I need more than a pound of mushrooms for that risotto. I mean, it'll be all rice if I only get a pound. Let's get five." After a week or two, I start going through my fridge to figure out what needs to get used up, and quickly.
There are three dishes that seem pretty ideal to this end: frittata, risotto, and bread pudding.
Bread puddings are usually desserts, based on a stale sweetish bread like challah or white bread. Tartine, my favorite bakery in San Francisco, makes an amazing, amazing bread pudding out of brioche and seasonal fruit. The basic formula is always 1: stale bread, usually cubed, 2: a custard base, and 3: spices, fruit, or both.
Savory bread puddings are essentially the same thing. Omit the sugar in the custard, add some grated cheese like gruyere, parmesan, or cheddar, anything that melts really well, and choose a more savory bread, like sourdough or, in this case, a large heel of Acme's olive bread. The milk in the custard can be as rich as you like - most recipes seem to call for whole milk or cream - but here I used buttermilk, thinking that the thickness would be a decent substitute and the acidity might lighten the load of all that bread and cheese. Searching through my fridge I found the dregs of a pint of cream, a handful of brussel sprouts, a dwindling bundle of thyme, and a sliver of parmesan. It turned out pretty tasty.
Buttermilk Olive Bread Pudding with Brussel Sprouts and Parmesan
half a loaf of Acme olive bread, cut into 1/2" cubes.
1 1/2 cups of 2% buttermilk (note: if you don't have buttermilk on hand, you can add a teaspoon or so of lemon juice or white vinegar to regular milk and let it sit for five minutes)
a splash of cream
a handful of brussel sprouts, around nine heads, trimmed, washed, and cut into ribbons
2 cloves garlic, minced
a generous 1/2 cup of grated parmesan
a heavy pinch of kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 F. While the oven preheats, bring the eggs to room temperature and, if necessary, make the buttermilk (see note in the ingredients list). Butter a baking dish and set aside.
Whisk the eggs with the salt and pepper. Add the buttermilk and cream until everything is fully incorporated; this is the custard base. In a separate, larger bowl, combine the bread cubes, garlic, and brussel sprout ribbons.
Add the custard and mix with your hands or a wooden spoon until the majority of the custard has been absorbed by the bread (you can check by looking at how much custard pools at the bottom of the bowl; it shouldn't be more than a tablespoon or so). Add the parmesan, reserving a couple teaspoons or so, and mix until evenly incorporated.
Pour the pudding mixture into the baking dish and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Bake until fully cooked, around 45 minutes - 50 minutes. Serve warm or cold.