|Seasonal Aspargaus Bread Pudding|
This morning I lifted my weary head from my sleep-induced coma and crept from under the comfort of my down duvet. Peering through the fog I seemed disoriented and every fibre of my being thought I had awakened in the wrong city, in the wrong province, or even on the wrong continent. I wondered if somehow I had ended up on the coast where the skies pour their hearts out for days on end, or found myself in a tropical rainforest? I shook my head to clear my thoughts and heard morning doves and swallows and not the excited chatter of monkeys or the beating of drums. I don't recall having too many glasses of wine at dinner last night. Am I not in the "sunny" Okanagan Valley where the relentless summer sun beats down on the sunbaked rolling hills? Yes it has rained for an entire week and we the smug raincoat-less, umbrella-less society have been speaking our minds on the subject.
Looking on the bright side, as I eventually always do, all this damp weather has brought me a sparkling clean home and many comforting dishes from my kitchen. To welcome in a glorious, albeit rain-soaked, Sunday morning I bring you a seasonal bread pudding perfect for our S-l-o-w Sundays. This has been a gloriously lazy weekend of staying up late and sleeping in, just as it should be. A Sunday should be slow, no rushing around, no big errands, just taking our time and mozying along. We have Meatless Mondays, Wordless Wednesdays so today we are back on track with our S-l-o-w Sunday feature. My idea of enjoying a Sunday morning is to have a warm cup of tea and a long and lovingly prepared breakfast.
For those of you who know me I work 6 days a week at the moment so when by chance I had a Saturday off yesterday the first thing I wanted to do was wander down to our local farmers market for the first time this season. I was like a kid in a candy store as I donned raincoat and waterproof shoes and waded through the rain-soaked parking lot to seek out all that a Spring market has to offer. Spring is when everything seems to come alive!!!!! The days are longer and the markets are bursting with the colours of the bountiful fruits and vegetables of the season. Not even the rain could put a damper on my enthusiasm. I spied fresh rhubarb, sweet garden peas, a tiny kaleidoscope of beets, asparagus and escarole and a wide variety of lettuces hand plucked from the garden for green salads. The delightful fragrance of chives, mint, chervil and tarragon filled the air. All of these tastes of Spring are bursting from our gardens, forests, markets and window boxes.
The idea for this savoury bread pudding came from a friend at work who had made a similar dish which I had to try in my own kitchen. I had to prepare one last tribute to asparagus and young Spring garlic before they are just a sweet memory with Spring herbs like chives, thyme and parsley from my window boxes. In this case I served it with some slices of Canadian peameal bacon and a tall glass of rhubarb iced tea. Enjoy what is left of your weekend whatever life has in store for you. As I sit here sipping my iced tea the sky is blue and the sun is shining. How life can change at a moments notice.
**Asparagus Bread Pudding**
1/2 loaf rustic bread, preferably day-old ciabatta or sourdough Italian, crusts removed, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (approximately 3 - 4 cups)
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 large eggs
1/4 tsp salt
Pinch of pepper
1/2 lb asparagus, tough stem ends removed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 small bulb of spring garlic, finely minced
1 small shallot, peeled and finely minced
1/2 cup Fontina, Gruyere or Emmenthaler cheese, grated
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup chopped mixed herbs such as thyme, oregano, chives, and/or flat-leaf parsley
Place the bread cubes in a large bowl and pour the milk over. Set aside to soak until the milk is almost thoroughly absorbed, about 35 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 1 quart souffle or square baking dish and set aside.
Combine the cream, eggs, salt, and pepper in a bowl and whisk together. Set the custard aside.
Drop the asparagus into a small saucepan of boiling water and cook until just tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Rinse under cold running water and drain. Toss together with the garlic, shallots and herbs.
In a small bowl, combine Fontina and Parmesan cheeses.
To the bowl with the soaked bread cubes add the asparagus herb mixture. Mix lightly to combine. Place 1/2 of the bread in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with 1/2 of the cheese mixture. Top with 1/2 of the remaining bread mixture and top with the remaining cheese. Pour the custard over the top.
Bake until golden brown, about 1 hour. Check for doneness with a skewer or paring knife. The custard should be set and the tester should come out clean.
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