Savory Bread Pudding with Bacon, Peppers, and Spinach
In this quintessential Christmas brunch dish, crisp, mahogany red bacon and red peppers contrast with bright green spinach leaves. The pudding makes breakfast or brunch a one-dish meal, though I like to serve it with a winter fruit platter. Remember to start the recipe two days in advance, as the bread cubes need to dry and the pudding must set before baking.
Serves 6 to 8
One 14-ounce loaf olive ciabatta, crusts removed and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 pound apple wood-smoked bacon, cut into 2-inch pieces
3/4 cup jarred roasted red peppers, rinsed, drained, and chopped
2 cups spinach leaves
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese, plus 1/4 cup for topping
4 cups milk or half-and-half
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. One day before preparing the pudding, place the bread cubes on a baking sheet and let stand at room temperature overnight, or until the cubes are dried out.
2. The next day, in a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium-high heat, turning once, for 5 minutes, or until evenly brown and crisp. Remove to paper towels to drain.
3. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange the cubes in the dish. Scatter the bacon, peppers, and spinach leaves evenly over the cubes. Sprinkle with the 2 cups cheese. With a large spoon, evenly distributed the ingredients.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together or beat with an electric mixer on medium speed the eggs, milk, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste until well blended. Ladle the milk mixture over the bread, using your fingers, if necessary, to press the bread into the liquid. Sprinkle with the 1/4 cup cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight.
5. The next morning, remove the baking dish from the refrigerator 1 hour before baking and preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until slightly puffed, set, and browned on the top. If the center is still underdone, push the bread down with a wooden spoon to help the bread absorb the liquid. Bake for a few more minutes. Let rest for a few minutes and then cut into squares. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
Advance Preparation: Make up to 4 hours ahead, cover, and keep at room temperature. Reheat in a 350°F oven for 15 minutes, if desired.
The Clever Cook Could:
· Substitute 1 cup smoked gouda for the Cheddar cheese.
· Substitute 1/2 pound cooked, thinly sliced sausage for the bacon.
· Substitute challah or French bread for the ciabatta.
· Add 3/4 cup sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions instead of the peppers.
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