Recipe from The Farm to Table Cookbook: The Art of Eating Locally, by Ivy Manning. (Sasquatch Books, 2008)
Asparagus and Caramelized Leek Bread Pudding
6 to 8 servings
This savory bread pudding is a good option as either a brunch entrée or a side dish for grilled chicken or fish. Use thick asparagus to make sure it won't overcook while baking. Lemon thyme, a hearty variety of thyme with green and yellow variegated leaves, gives the bread pudding a refreshing lemon flavor. Regular fresh thyme can be substituted.
- 10 ounces focaccia or French bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 7 cups)
- 1 pound asparagus, tough ends snapped off
- Ice water for blanching
- 1 medium leek
- 4 teaspoons olive oil
- 4 cups half-and-half
- 8 eggs
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh lemon thyme
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- Spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and let stand overnight to become stale, or quick-dry in a 200º F oven for 40 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350º F and butter a 13- by 9- by 2-inch baking dish. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the asparagus, and cook until it is bright green, about 2 minutes. Drain and blanch in the ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.
- Remove the dark green part of the leek and discard. Halve the leek lengthwise, rinse well between layers, and thinly slice. In a sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté until they begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add a few tablespoons of water and continue to cook until the leeks are caramel colored and tender, 5 minutes; set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the half-and-half, eggs, zest, and thyme. Put the bread cubes in the prepared baking dish and sprinkle on the leeks. Arrange the asparagus on top and pour the egg mixture over all. Press with a spatula to submerge the bread cubes; sprinkle the top with both cheeses.
- Cover the dish loosely with foil and bake until the edges are golden brown and a butter knife comes out clean when inserted in the center, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool for 20 minutes, cut into squares, and serve.