I gather that some people didn't like opening Gourmet and seeing copy about fancy stuff, but my eyes went straight to the Gourmet Every Day section, where I always found something I was dying to cook. Many of those recipes earned themselves permanent spots on my list of Old Faithfuls. This savory bread pudding is a variation on such a recipe, December 2008's Arugula, Bacon, and Gruyère Bread Pudding.
The original is wildly delicious, appropriate for any meal, and easy to modify to suit whatever you have on hand. I add an extra egg, use about two cups of almost any cooked vegetable (here it was cauliflower), substitute less expensive cheeses for costly Gruyère, and skip the cream unless I happen to have it. This is a great use for almost-stale bread cubes that you threw into a freezer bag before it was too late. Just don't forget the bacon. I used twelve strips once, and all I can say is that too much is seldom enough.
- Softened butter for greasing the dish
- 2 cups whole milk
- 6 large eggs
- 6 cups 1/2- to 1-inch bread cubes (about 10 ounces bread; I used half of an olive boule)
- 1 small head cauliflower (about 1 pound) chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
- Olive oil
- 6 strips good bacon, preferably thick-cut
- 1 large shallot, sliced (or a small onion)
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped
- A cup of cheese (here, 1/4 cup soft goat cheese and a large handful of grated sharp cheddar)
Preheat the oven to 400°. Rub a 9x13 baking dish with a generous amount of butter (perhaps a tablespoon). Whisk together the milk, eggs, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Put the bread cubes in the baking dish and pour the egg mixture over them.
Toss the cauliflower with a tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt and some pepper. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes, or until it is soft and beginning to caramelize.
Cook the bacon, either in a skillet or in the oven (10-15 minutes at 400 degrees, depending on the thickness of the bacon). When it is crispy, drain it on paper towels and then crumble.
If you cooked the bacon in a skillet, discard all but about a tablespoon of its fat. If you cooked it in the oven, pour about a tablespoon of its fat into a 12-inch skillet, and reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Heat the fat over a medium flame and then add the shallots. Saute until they have softened but not yet turned brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook about a minute more before stirring in the roasted cauliflower. Stir just long enough to coat the cauliflower with bacon fat and onions.
Scatter the bacon and cheeses over the custardy bread crumbs and then stir them in. Stir in the cauliflower mixture. When everything is evenly mixed, cover the dish with aluminum foil and put it in the oven. After 30 minutes, remove the foil and bake 10 minutes more uncovered.