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News / Life / Food

Turn day-old bread into savory or sweet pudding

By Beth Dooley, Star Tribune
Published: May 29, 2024, 6:06am

As much as I love a loaf of rustic bread, with its tooth-tugging crust and tender center, it’s the day-old hunks that intrigue me. Here are the makings of a lush pudding, either savory or sweet.

A savory bread pudding, packed with seasonal veggies and spices, is much like a quiche but easier and more expeditious — no crust required. It’s as delicious served warm as it is at room temperature, and can be made a day or two ahead, so it’s perfect for entertaining. For better depth of flavor, be sure to cook the vegetables in good butter long enough that they release their juices, and then allow them to cool before adding them to the pudding base.

Bread that’s just slightly stale and firm is perfect for a pudding. If it’s still fresh and soft, just lightly toast the slices in the oven to dry them out a bit. This gives the pudding structure and helps keep it from becoming too soggy.

Our local winter spinach works beautifully in bread pudding. Grown under colder conditions, this spinach produces longer, sturdier leaves than the spring varieties. It has more flavor because there’s actually less water in the plant’s cells, so the taste is intensified. The spinach also adds color and interest to the overall dish.

Take this basic recipe and vary the vegetables as they come into market — asparagus, mushrooms, kale, collards and squash all work well. (Tomatoes and cucumbers are just too juicy.) This is also a great way to make use of the odds and ends of nice cheeses — a good Parmesan, a fine Cheddar, an aged Gouda, creamy chèvre.

And don’t hesitate to spice it up. A shot of Tabasco, spoonful of curry or a shower of herbs can make it a dinner-worthy dish for breakfast or brunch.

Spinach Bread Pudding

Serves 4 to 6.

Make this the night before and bake off for brunch the next day. It’s a luxurious use of stale bread, and you can vary the vegetables to suit the season. From Beth Dooley.

6 to 8 oz. day-old bread

3 tbsp. butter, plus more for pan

1 small onion, chopped

2 cup fresh spinach

3 eggs

1/2 tsp. coarse salt

4 cup half and half or whole milk

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Generous pinch nutmeg

1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried

1/2 c. grated Cheddar cheese, plus more for topping

1/4 c. grated Gruyère cheese, plus more for topping

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Tear the bread into 1-inch chunks. If it’s fresh, place on a baking sheet and lightly toast. Generously butter a 9- to 10-inch baking dish.

Set a large skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Sauté the onion until it’s tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until just wilted, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, salt and half and half, then the pepper and nutmeg. Add the bread, thyme, Cheddar and Gruyère cheeses and the sautéed vegetables and mix well. Carefully pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Top with any extra cheese.

Bake until the custard is no longer runny in the center, about 1 to 11/4 hours. If the top becomes too dark before the pudding is done, cover the dish with aluminum foil.