Bread puddings are an ingenious vehicle for stray bits of vegetables and cheese, stale bread, even excess steamed milk from your morning cappuccino. I don’t think I’ve ever made a bread pudding I didn’t like. The key is to taste the custard before adding the bread to ensure it is properly seasoned (in fact, season it more than you think is necessary, as the bread is neutral and requires additional seasoning). The vegetables should also be seasoned properly, so taste, taste, taste!
I prefer my bread puddings firm rather than wobbly, so I add plenty of eggs to bind the mixture properly. I also like lots of vegetables, and usually opt for greens like spinach, arugula, or broccoli raab. The vegetables should be cooked before being folded into the custard base, so they become a silky part of the whole rather than a distinct component.
Serve the bread pudding below with a simple green salad as a main course, and experiment with other vegetables if you’re inspired at the market. Just be sure to pair the cheese with the vegetable: Gruyere is lovely with mushrooms; Parmigiano with spinach; Scamorza with fennel… You get the idea.
Makes 1 large bread pudding (serves 8 as an appetizer, 4 as a main course)
For the broccoli raab:
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ teaspoon chili flakes
- 1 large bunch broccoli raab, tough stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped (about 1 pound prior to trimming)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup water
For the bread puddings:
- extra-virgin olive oil for greasing the roasting pan
- 6 large eggs
- 2 cups whole milk
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
- ¼ pound day-old white sliced bread, torn into 1/2-inch pieces
- ¼ pound thickly sliced Pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice
Make the broccoli raab: Preheat the oven to 375° (preferably set on convection).
Place the olive oil, garlic, and chili in a 12-inch sauté pan. Warm gently over medium heat until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the broccoli raab, season with the salt, and sauté 5 minutes, or until wilted. Add the water and continue to cook until the water evaporates and the raab is soft, about 5 more minutes. Cool to room temperature and adjust the seasoning as needed.
Make the bread pudding: Brush an 8-inch square roasting pan with olive oil.
Beat the eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and ½ cup of the Pecorino in a large bowl with a whisk until aerated and some bubbles have formed in the mixture. The longer you beat, the lighter the bread pudding will be. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Add the bread and the sautéed raab. Mix gently with your hands so the bread soaks up some of the liquid, but do not overmix or the bread will disintegrate and lose its texture.
Spoon the mixture in the prepared roasting pan and dust with the remaining 2 tablespoons of Pecorino. Scatter the Pancetta over the top.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until set, golden-brown on top, and bubbling. Let rest 5 minutes, then cut into wedges and serve hot.