Asparagus, Brie, and Oyster Mushroom Bread Pudding

INGREDIENTS:

1 bunch (roughly 1 ¼ pounds) medium asparagus
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1 1/2 tablespoon butter
1/1/2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces oyster mushrooms (or buttons) sliced or broken into 1/2 inch bits
1 small brown onion-peeled and cut into medium dice
1/2 loaf of bread such as French, francese, or ciabatta, crust on, cut into small cubes
2 teaspoons fresh herbs such as marjoram, thyme, or a mix
4 ounces ripe Brie (or other soft-ripened double or triple cream cheese) cut into 1/2 inch cubes. (Do this with the cheese very cold and use a sharp knife dipped into hot water, then wiped dry.)
3 cups half and half
5 large eggs

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter 2½ quart baking dish.

Snap the asparagus, and peel the bottom quarter of each spear.

Prepare an ice bath large enough to hold the asparagus.

Blanch the asparagus for 1-1 1/2 minutes (just until bright green and the rawness is removed) and cool in an ice bath to arrest the cooking. When cold, drain and dry on paper towels.

Heat a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 1/2 tablespoon each of butter and olive oil. When the butter stops foaming add the mushrooms. Toss to coat with the oil, then sauté until golden and aromatic. Transfer mushrooms to a bowl.

Add the rest of the butter and oil to the pan, melt, then add the onions. Cook onions until they pick up some color and are soft. Remove to the bowl with the mushrooms.

Scatter half the bread around the bottom of the baking dish. Scatter half the herbs over that, then layer half of the asparagus and half the mushroom and onion mixture. Then comes half the cheese.

Repeat this step, starting again with the bread.

Make the custard; heat the half-and-half in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Cook until it is just hot. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs with salt and pepper until combined, then carefully stream in the hot dairy, whisking all the while. Add it slowly so you do not cook the eggs and wind up with bits of scrambled egg in the custard.

Pour the custard over the contents of the baking dish. Be sure to evenly soak the top layer. Wrap a cutting board that will fit inside the dish in plastic wrap and set it on top of the pudding. Weight it with cans or a pan and let it compress the contents for 15-20 minutes.

Remove the board and place the dish in the center of the pre-heated oven. Bake until the dish is set and golden on top, roughly 45 minutes.

When done, place on a cooling rack for 5-10 minutes to allow it to further set up. Serve warm.

CHEF NOTES:

  • You canuse any mushrooms you want here, although I don’t think shiitakes would be the best idea here-too strong and not a great match with Brie. 
  • Use different cheeses if you wish, like a Gruyere or other Swiss to lighten it a little.
  • This is a good base for playing with other vegetables as well.