As a kid I was happier than ever when the grownups ate all the fresh asparagus, just picked by Grandma Pete from back by the garage and cooked up for asparagus on toast. With maturity, I realize those grownups knew what they were doing. Now I'd be first in the asparagus line, and hope that will be the case next time I get to Orange.
Until then, there is plenty of supermarket asparagus to be had, but of course it's not the same. It can be mightily improved however, when used for Asparagus Bread Pudding from Greens Restaurant in San Francisco. I made it for the first time two nights ago, though I must have clipped the recipe from the SF Examiner back when we were still living in California. It was certainly delicious, but last night, I decided to pair the leftover bread pudding with some semiboneless quail I bought in a mini-gourmet moment. I must say, that certainly raised the bar for our week night dining at home.
Should you wish to try it, the Asparagus Bread Pudding recipe follows. The quail preparation, which turned out to be surprisingly less complicated than I thought, is from Bouchon, the Thomas Keller cookbook Meg gave me for Christmas. Beware of making both things on the same night however, as that might be too time consuming for week night cooking.
Asparagus Bread Pudding (serves 6)
1 pound rustic bread, crusts removed (or not, I left them on and liked the way they got crunchy)
1-1/2 cups milk
1 pound asparagus, tough ends removed
1 cup heavy cream (I used half-and-half)
6 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup grated Fontina cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (thyme, oregano, parsley)
1. Cut the bread into 1/2-inch thick slices. In a bowl combine with the milk. Set aside for 30 minutes or until the bread has absorbed the milk.
2. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Butter a 2-quart souffle dish or other high-sided dish of the same size.
3. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and salt it lightly. Cut the asparagus into 2-inch lengths.
4. In a bowl combine the cream, eggs, salt, and pepper. Whisk thoroughly; set this custard aside.
5. Drop the asparagus into the boiling water and cook 1 to 2 minutes or until the asparagus is tender but still has some bite. Drain and rinse under cold water.
6. In a bowl combine the Fontina and Parmesan cheeses. Place one-third of the soaked bread in the prepared dish. Add half the asparagus, then one-third of the cheese mixture, then half the herbs.
7. Make another layer, then top with the last third of bread and cheese. Pour the custard into the dish.
8. Bake the pudding for 1 hour or until it is golden brown.