I’m not making one thing for Thanksgiving Dinner today. We are home for the holiday and plan to dine out late this afternoon. I’m saving myself and looking forward to cooking Christmas dinner with my mom next month, but meanwhile, I did want to honor this holiday with something special for breakfast. I tore this recipe out of Gourmet Magazine 12 years ago, then made it so often that I mangled the tear sheet and had to transfer it, handwritten, into my personal recipe book (this was before the time of recipes on the internet), and now some parts are almost illegible from plain ‘ole custard spattering and use. This is my go-to holiday brunch dish, and I do believe this is the best savory bread pudding I’ve ever put in my mouth!
In addition to a warm, custardy texture that all bread puddings should have, this has the added bonus of sweet, savory ham and lightly caramelized onion, a good amount of spinach for flavor and color (I won’t insult you and say for health!), and creamy, melty fontina on top and throughout for a bit of gooey goodness. A hint of nutmeg gives it the perfect holiday touch. It makes quite a colorful and elegant dish, is great to serve to company for brunch or dinner, can be halved, and of course, it’s delicious to eat! And to top off all of those virtues—of which low calorie is maybe not one—you can make it the night before, cover it, put it in the fridge, and you’re ready to bake it off the next a.m.
I’m being so bad today, but it’s making me so happy!
All I can tell you is that if you don’t try this recipe you’re really missing out on something special. Don’t eat meat, you say? You can definitely substitute italian turkey sausage or italian chicken sausage, just remove it from the casings and cook it off before adding. You could probably substitute sauteed mushrooms for the meat as well, and now that I’m thinking of that, I may give it a try!
Happy Thanksgiving and a happy holiday season everyone. Party on!
Ham, Fontina and Spinach Bread Pudding (Gourmet December 1999)
Serves 6 to 8, can be halved
1 large baguette (3/4 lb.)
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 onions, chopped
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 lb. cooked ham, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
4 large eggs
1 quart whole milk (2% will work, too)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
6 cups spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
3/4 lb. Fontina cheese, grated
Preheat the broiler. Diagonally cut the baguette into 3/4″ thick slices crosswise and brush both sides with butter. Toast on a baking sheet under the broiler until golden, about 30 seconds on each side. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees if cooking the pudding right away.
Saute the onions in the olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat until they are golden, stirring occasionally. Add the ham and saute until the ham is lightly browned. Remove the pan from heat and set aside. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl , then whisk in the milk, salt, nutmeg and some fresh ground black pepper to taste. Add the toasted bread to the custard mix and gently toss to coat. Transfer the saturated bread to a shallow 3 quart casserole, slightly overlapping the slices. Pour any remaining egg mixture over.
Tuck spinach and ham between the slices, reserving a little of the ham mixture to sprinkle on top. Sprinkle the cheese over the pudding, lifting slices with a spatula to allow some to fall between them. Sprinkle the reserved ham over the pudding and bake in the middle of the oven 45 minutes to an hour, or until puffed and edges of the bread are golden and the custard is set in the middle.
Note: If assembling the day before, as I always do, increase the baking time to 1 hour 10 minutes if you’re making a full recipe and the pudding is cold when you put it in the oven. Cover the top with foil after 45 minutes to prevent browning, and if you’ve made a half recipe as I have today, check your pudding at 45 minutes, cover it and watch it for the next 15 to 20 until set. You can use italian sausage (or other as stated above) instead of ham, just remove it from the casings and cook it off before adding to the recipe. Goat cheese or Gruyere can also be substituted for the Fontina. How bad could any of that be?