Clearly, this is the month of mushrooms in our house.They're such a good flavour for autumn because they lend themselves to warm, rich, comforting food like no other vegetable (fungus?) I know. I can pretty reliably get at least 5 different kinds here at any given time. By mixing and matching mushroom varieties, I can get an earthy, deep flavour, or a light and barely-there flavour, depending on the dish. I reckon this is the season for deep and earthy, so I went heavy on the portobellos and shitakes.
Happily, I also really love bread pudding. I learned the secrets of a really great bread pudding when I was in New Orleans last winter - it depends entirely on using good French bread, leaving the crusts on, squishing the bread-milk mixture together well with your fingers, and letting it soak for ages. Following those rules results in the lightest, puffiest bread pudding imaginable. More like a souffle than anything, and perfect for some wild mushrooms, thyme, and other earthy goodies. I baked this pudding in a big pan and then served it individually after, but you could easily make it in individual ramekins. I think it would present better that way as you'd get a lovely puffy crust at the top of each dish rather than a jumbled heap of lumpy pudding.
I made this for an appetizer course when we had some friends over for supper after a cold late-autumn football game where we were all chilled to the core and it was perfect. Even the self-professed mushroom-hater of the bunch cleaned his plate. I think it'd also do quite nicely as a main dish for lunch served witha green salad. We ate the leftovers the next day for breakfast - which was divine, although it does get a little heavier and less soufflee-like after it's cooled and been reheated.
When you cook with portobellos, remember to use a small teaspoon to scrape the gills from the underside of the caps before slicing as, otherwise, everything turns an unattractive pasty charcoal colour.
This recipe is adapted from one found on Epicurious.com:
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 4 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 medium onion, diced fine
- 1 teaspoon ground sage
- 1 Tablespoon fresh thyme
- 1.5 pounds mixed mushrooms (white, oyster, cremini, portobello, shitake...whatever - just make sure there's at least 1/4 portobello or shitake for the flavour)
- 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- 5 large eggs
- 1.5 cups cream
- 1.5 cup milk
- 1/3 cup Parmegiano Reggiano, grated fine
- 1.25 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon cracked pepper
- French bread, torn into pieces half the size of a small egg (enough to make 6 cupe of pieces)
Pre-grease a 9 by 9 pyrex baking dish, or six 300 to 400ml size ramekins.
Clean and slice the mushrooms in large-ish slices. Set them aside.
Melt butter in a large saute pan, and cook the onions and garlic over medium heat until browned. Add sage and thyme. Cook for 3 minutes more. Add mushrooms and cook over medium high heat for 10 minutes or until browned and quite a lot of moisture has cooked off.
Stir in parsley, and remove from heat.
Whisk eggs, cream, milk, cheese, salt and pepper in large bowl. Add bread and use your hand to gently squish the bread and egg around- pick up whole handfulls of bread and sort of squeeze it through the milk mixture - almost like you're trying to wring out a large cotton ball without crushing it. Keep squishing gently until the bread is throughly soaked. Stir in the mushroom mixture and pour the whole lot into a pre-greased pan or ramkeins. Cover and let the mixture stand at least 30 minutes or as much as 4 or 5 hours. I bet you could even leave it overnight.
Heat the oven to 350f.
Bake until the pudding is brown and puffed, and set in center, about 1 hour for the large pan, probably more like 45 minutes for the rtamekins. Test for doneness by inserting a knife in the centre.
Serve warm, with a sprinkling of more cheese.