Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding

Do not adjust your screens, people. This is indeed a savory recipe you are seeing on this site. Because even those of us who can happily cobble together a meal of cookies, ice cream and marshmallows can get totally over sweets every once and a while. And since I know I can't be the only one going through the shakes of holiday sugar withdrawals, I thought I'd share something a little different with you today. And by "different", I mean good bread plus creamy custard, heady Gruyere, fresh herbs and a bucketload of earthy mushrooms. It's got New Year's Party Food written all over it.

I first tasted this glorious, insanely flavorful savory bread pudding at one of the school-catered lunches during my epic week of pastry immersion. I think I started obsessively pestering my teacher for the recipe about five seconds into the meal. With a lightly dressed simple green salad, I don't know how you can go wrong. It's like the perfect lunch. Lady food of the highest order. But in my experience, dudes don't even care if someone might consider this lady food. I never halve the recipe for our tiny family. We clear this sucker between two back-to-back meals. It is really something.

Fabulous flavors aside, there really is no better time to have the basics of bread pudding under your belt. With the holidays on their way out, the winter days are going to start getting really long any minute now--even for those of us here in San Francisco who probably will not have to deal with anything more meterologically ferocious than a few straight days of rain and cold mist. Really, no one likes to make unneccessary trips to the store in January, do they?

As long as you've got milk, eggs and some leftover bread, you can have a crazy-versatile bread pudding recipe ready for the eating in no time flat. All it takes is remembering this formula: one pound of bread, six eggs, three cups of milk. Beyond that, you can do just about anything--sweet, savory, spicy, veggie, meaty, or whatever the heck is rolling around in your fridge shelves and crisper drawer. Genius! This wild mushroom number is just one suggestion.

Even better, it couldn't come together faster. For this recipe, once you prep your mushrooms, onions and herbs, you're nearly to the finish line. Just whisk together some eggs, milk and cheese and soak your bread in it while you saute those aforementioned vegetal elements until tender. Into a buttered casserole dish it all goes (or individual ramekins for you fancy party people) for a bake just long enough to enjoy a glass of wine while you pull together a salad. Doable even with a New Year's hangover. And I should know.

Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding Adapted from Christa Resing Colardo of Marin Cooking

I'm suggesting dried porcinis and fresh creminis because they pack a ton of flavor and are readily available, but use any combination of mushrooms you like here. Fresh herbs are amazing, but I've also used a teaspoon of dried herbes de provence instead and liked the results. Use low-fat milk if you must, but avoid skim, because really, what's the point?

Serves 8

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms 3 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 large onion, chopped 1/2 pound fresh cremini mushrooms, sliced Kosher salt and black pepper 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, minced 1 generous teaspoon fresh sage leaves (about 4-5 large), minced 1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced 6 large eggs 3 cups whole milk 1 cup grated Gruyere cheese 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese (I like Grana Padano) 1 1-pound loaf rustic artisan bread, cut into 1" pieces

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 375 degrees. Butter 12 individual ramekins or a 2 1/2-3 quart baking dish.

Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and over with hot water. Set aside to hydrate for at least 10 minutes. Drain and chop them coarsely.

In a large saute pan, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onions until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the sliced fresh mushrooms and saute just until they begin to give off some liquid, about 5 minutes more. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of fresh black pepper. Remove from the heat and stir in the fresh herbs.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, Gruyere, and 1/2 cup of parmesan. Whisk in 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Add the bread cubes and let soak for about 5-10 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Fold in the mushroom mixture.

Turn the bread pudding into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered until puffed and golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean--anywhere from 45-60 minutes depending on the size and depth of your baking dish. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes before serving.

SavoryShauna Sever