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How to Create Your Own Savory Bread Pudding (or Strata)

November/December 2020 Issue
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Savory bread puddings are some of the most versatile and filling egg dishes you can make. You might hear them referred to as “stratas,” but I think that term is limiting. A savory bread pudding isn’t just sausage and bread and cheese— it can be a fresh, bright-tasting dish packed with herbs, seasonal vegetables, and other flavorful ingredients.

Like quiche or frittata, bread pudding is really just another great way to turn custard—eggs and dairy—into a filling dish. The biggest rule of thumb for custard is to season it well before cooking. You can’t add flavor after it bakes, so plenty of salt, pepper, herbs, and aromatics are key to a tasty bread pudding. No matter which vegetables you choose, it’s best to cook them before using them in a custard, or else they will give off too much liquid when they cook (and also taste and feel raw). Meats like sausage and bacon should be cooked first, too, and I also like to crisp up cured meats like thinly sliced salami and chorizo before using them in a custard.

Savory bread puddings get more flavorful as they sit, so give them time to cool a bit before eating. Leftovers will be even tastier. Gently reheat, covered, in the oven or microwave.

Try this multi-vegetable bread pudding with ham and Gouda, or follow the steps below to create your own combination.

Step 1: Prepare the Bread and Mix-Ins

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 2-qt. baking dish or nine 1-cup ramekins.

Place 5 cups of 3/4-inch bread cubes (choose from: challah, croissants, English muffins, multigrain, peasant, sourdough, or whole-wheat bread) on a large baking sheet, and bake until lightly toasted, 8 to 10 minutes. Let the bread cool slightly, then transfer to a bowl. Melt the 2 Tbs. butter, and drizzle over the bread cubes; stir to coat.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add a little extra-virgin olive oil, if needed. Add 5 to 6 oz finely diced or sliced meat (choose from: bacon, Canadian bacon, cured or fresh chorizo, ham, pancetta, prosciutto, salami, sopressata or sausage) and cook, stirring constantly if pieces are small, until crisp and brown, 1 to 3 minutes for prosciutto or ham, 5 to 10 minutes for sausage or bacon.

transfer meat to a paper towel-lined plate. Drain all but enough fat to just cover the bottom of the pan, and return the pan to the heat. Add 8 oz. vegetables (choose from: sliced asparagus or green beans, very small broccoli or cauliflower florets, diced bell pepper, sliced or quartered small mushrooms, diced or thinly sliced onions or fennel, fresh corn kernels, sliced scallions, sliced shallots or leeks) OR 12 oz. leafy greens (choose from: baby spinach leaves, baby kale or mustard leaves, chopped Swiss chard, or very thinly sliced mature greens, such as collards or kale) OR a combination of vegetables and leafy greens. Cook, stirring, until tender and browned, 6 to 8 minutes, or if cooking greens, just until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. If using two vegetables, begin with the longer-cooking vegetable first, and add greens the last 1 to 2 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low, add 1 to 2 tsp. chopped fresh garlic, and sauté just until softened and fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat.

In one or two small bowls, crumble or grate 5 to 6 oz. total of cheese (choose one or two: aged Gouda, cheddar, Gruyère, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Swiss, Brie, Camembert, goat cheese (chèvre), or feta).

Step 2: Make the Custard

In a large bowl, combine 7 large eggs, 2-1/2 cups half-and-half, 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce, 2 to 3 Tbs. chopped fresh herbs (choose from: basil, chervil, chives, cilantro, mint, oregano, parsley, and/or thyme), 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Whisk to combine. If you like, whisk in an optional aromatic (choose from: 2 tsp. chopped capers, 2 tsp. Dijon mustard, 1 to 2 tsp. prepared horseradish, 1 tsp. lemon or lime zest, or 2 Tbs. finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes).

Step 3: Assemble and Bake the Bread Pudding

If using a baking dish, arrange half of the bread cubes over the bottom of the baking dish. Scatter half of the meat, half of the vegetables, and half of the cheese over the bread. Repeat with the remaining bread cubes, meat, vegetables, and cheese. If using ramekins, in a large bowl, toss together the bread, meat, vegetables, and cheese. Divide mixture between the ramekins.

Spoon or pour the custard evenly in the baking dish or ramekins. Use the back of a spoon to press down lightly to moisten. Let stand for 10 to 20 minutes.

Bake until the pudding has puffed, is set in the middle, turns golden brown, and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes for the baking dish, or 25 to 30 minutes for the ramekins.

Let cool for 15 to 20 minutes, and serve warm. Alternatively, cool completely, refrigerate, and reheat individual servings in the microwave, or in the oven at 350°F for 20 minutes.

If you make your bread pudding without meat, double the amount of vegetables. Once you’ve made a few, feel free to play around with proportions. Just be sure everything fits in a 2-quart dish, with custard covering everything.


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