Asparagus Bread Pudding   

This dish was inspired by a recipe that Georgeanne Brennan brought back from France and shared with her friends at Chez Panisse. You can play around with it by trying different cheeses and even substituting other vegetables when asparagus isn't at its peak.

Serves eight.

2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 Tbs. water
Pinch salt
1 lb. (2 small) leeks, cleaned and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices (white and light green parts only)
5 eggs
2-1/2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
1 lb. dry bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (if fresh, toast lightly)
1/4 lb. Fontina cheese, shredded
1/4 lb. Gruyère or Cantal cheese, shredded
1/2 cup mixed chopped fresh herbs (chives, parsley, tarragon, chervil)
1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest
Pinch cayenne
1 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oven to 375°F. In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the butter with the water and a pinch of salt. Add the leeks and cook until tender, about 10 min. Set aside to cool. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Add the remaining ingredients, including the leeks, and gently toss them. The mixture should be well coated and somewhat soupy.

Spread the mixture into a 4-quart soufflé dish, a 13x9-inch baking dish, or another ovenproof dish that's at least 2 inches deep and big enough to hold the mixture. Put the dish on a baking sheet and bake until the top is crusty brown and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean, 45 to 60 min. If the pudding looks too dark before it's finished, cover with foil. Let cool slightly before serving.

Source of recipe: Fine Cooking #26
photo: Maura McEvoy

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