By Emily Paster
I can't stop making savory bread puddings for dinner. Part of the problem is that I have a lot of stale bread to use up. I love nothing more than to eat bread and cheese for lunch, so every few days I buy some fancy cheese and a baguette. The baguette inevitably goes stale before I can finish it. If that bread were going to waste, I would be upset, but stale bread never goes to waste in my house. In summer, stale bread gets a second life as bruschetta or croutons for gazpacho. Other times, I just freeze stale pieces of bread until I have enough to make a bread pudding.
Earlier this year, I posted a recipe for a Smoked Mozzarella Bread Pudding that I recommended as a brunch dish. In that recipe, and in most sweet bread puddings, the bread is cut into cubes, placed in a single layer in a baking dish and then covered with a milk-and-egg custard prior to baking. That approach certainly works well. But to mix it up, I sometimes like to make a bread pudding where slices of bread are layered with vegetables, herbs and cheese before being covered with a custard and baked. Some might say that this approach resembles an Italian strata more than it does a bread pudding. You say strata; I say bread pudding. Let's call the whole thing dinner.
During the summer months, the vegetable of choice was tomato. This week, I used the last of the farmers' market heirloom tomatoes — green zebras to be exact — to make one more tomato and herb bread pudding. Now that tomato season really has ended, I will likely start using roasted red peppers or sauteed onion. But that's the good news about this recipe: it is easily varied to accommodate whatever is in season…or whatever is in your refrigerator. If using any vegetable other than tomato, however, I do recommend sauteing the vegetable first: they won't cook enough in the bread pudding to come out tender. I also like to add some chopped fresh herbs in between the layers of bread and vegetables. Feel free to use whatever you have on hand that pairs nicely with your vegetables. Obviously, basil is a great choice with tomato. Thyme, oregano and parsley would also work nicely.
Savory Bread Pudding
Depending on whether you use a wide, shallow pan or narrower deeper pan, you should expect two to three complete bread-tomato-cheese layers. This recipe can be prepared ahead of time up to the point where you pour the custard over the layers of bread and tomato.
- 1 tsp. butter
- 1 loaf French of Italian bread, sliced
- 4-5 small tomatoes or 2-3 large ones
- 4 oz. hard or semi-hard cheese, such as Gruyere, Swiss or Cheddar
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, thyme, oregano and parsley (optional)
- 3 cups milk
- 4 eggs
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Butter a 2.75 or 3-quart glass baking dish.
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- Place a layer of bread slices in the bottom of the baking dish.
- Top the bread with a layer of sliced tomato.
- Season well with salt and pepper and chopped fresh herbs, if using.
- Grate half the cheese over the tomatoes.
- Repeat the layers until the dish is filled and you have used up all your bread.
- In a large bowl, beat the eggs and milk together.
- Carefully pour the milk and egg custard over the layers of bread and tomato, making sure that most of the layers are submerged.
- Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes until puffed and golden.