Thursday, March 3, 2011

"Lasagna" Bread Pudding

What has become one of my families favorite memories of me first occurred on an Easter weekend when I was 6 or 7.  We were celebrating the holiday with some of our extended family who were in from out of town, and that meant that my mom was serving up delicious Italian cuisine all weekend long.  Wanting a simple meal one evening my mother decided to have pasta one night and therefore made up big plate of beautiful spaghetti, loaded with hearty red sauce, and served with a side of her famous garlic bread.  This classic meal was one for the books.  One of my chores at that time was to set the table for dinner, and to bring the plates of food to each setting.  One of my self proclaimed roles at that age was also to be a chatty Cathy.  Hours upon hours of useless drivel would pour through my mouth to anyone who would listen.  Often this outpouring of knowledge was particularly exciting, and I would get very involved in whatever it was that I was clamoring on about.  On this particular evening, I was chatting on with full gusto as I had a a larger audience than just my immediate family, and I lost all understanding of what I was doing as I made trip after trip from the kitchen to the dining room with full plates of spaghetti.  About halfway there it occurred to me, the plate I was carrying, for some strange reason, was becoming lighter.  I looked down to find that, in my exuberance, I had tilted the plate and pasta and sauce had found its way off the plate and on to the floor, as well as me, tracing my steps from the kitchen on.  The majority, of course, landed squarely on the area rug in the dining room creating a big red, oily stain.  Needless to say, I'm sure, dinner had to be halted as the mess was cleaned, and I was sternly reminded to keep my brain on the task at hand-again.  

I often recall this story and chuckle, so when Peter from PeteyPumpkin set the tone for a recent pot luck dinner party as Easter or Passover dishes from our childhood, I immediately thought of the pasta incident.  My brain then floated over to lasagna, and then finally I realized that a savory bread pudding would be right up my ally.  

I love bread pudding, I love its hearty-ness combined with its custard like texture.  The real beauty is when the middle is soft and eggy, and the outside edges are a bit crisp from the baking process.  I decided to combine the beauty of lasagna with the wonderful attributes of bread pudding. 

I began by drying out a loaf of Italian bread that came pre sliced.  This can either be done by laying out the bread on cooling racks for a day or two, or by throwing the slices into the oven at a low temperature for 20 minutes or so. You just want them dry, not toasted.  I was short on time so I placed mine into the oven at 200 degrees.  

In the meantime, I thinly sliced zucchini, red and yellow bell peppers, and portobello mushrooms.  I drizzled these lightly with olive oil salt and pepper, and, once the bread had finished drying out, I roasted them at about 400 degrees until the mushrooms were cooked through and the peppers were just getting a little black on the sides.   I set these aside to cool. 

I also, cut off the top of a head of garlic, wrapped the bottom and sides in tinfoil, and drizzled the exposed top with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.  That went into the same roasting temperature oven for about 20 minutes as well- or until the garlic cloves were soft and fragrant.  Once it was done, I gently squeezed the garlic cloves from their casings and mashed them with a fork.  I then added 3/4 of a cup of low fat ricotta and a few generous handfuls of shredded mozzarella. 

I moved on to the "pudding" part next and combined 3-4 eggs in a bowl with 3/4 cup of milk, a handful chopped parsley, salt and pepper.  I cut the bread into bite size pieces and added them to the bowl with the egg mixture, tossing every so often to allow the bread to fully soak up the egg.

I lightly greased a bread pan (bottom and sides) and then began to assemble my bread pudding.  I placed a layer of the soaked bread into the bottom, and then spread the ricotta mixture in an even layer on top of that.  Then I laid out the vegetables across that, topped with more cheese, another layer of the bread, and then a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese across the top.  

I packed this bad boy up (with freezer bags) and popped it into a 375 degree oven once I got to Peters for about 40 minutes to an hour.  I served it with a side of tomato vinegar.  The result was one flavorful bread pudding.  I enjoyed the layers, however I feel that if I were to serve this again I might incorporate the vegetables into the pudding more to really allow the bread to reach that wonderful custardy stage.  I think that here my layers were too thin and that level wasn't achieved.  However, the sweet roasted garlic mixed with the beautiful ricotta, and then the melty mozzarella all paired with the roasted vegetables made for some fantastic flavors.  

This was a tasty and easy pot luck meal- easy to throw together after work, and then a simple heat up at your destination.  I was really pleased with this after a very busy week.

It must also be said that the contributions of the other diners were incredible- spanakopita, gazpacho, pierogies, an incredible chocolate caramel dessert....ridiculous.  Pot lucks may be my new favorite!   


Kathy said...

This looks fantastic! Did you top it with red sauce? The idea of that makes me swoon!

Kristen said...

oh the story of you tipping the sauce bowl and leaving a trail of stains is pretty hilarious. Potlucks are the best! this looks like so much fun!

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