What We’re Cooking This Week: Fennel and Onion Bread Pudding

Bread pudding runs sweet more often than savory, although turkey dressing at Thanksgiving is a close cousin.

Fennel bread pudding. (Jim Dixon)

Jim Dixon wrote about food for WW for more than 20 years, but these days most of his time is spent at his olive oil-focused specialty food business Wellspent Market. Jim’s always loved to eat, and he encourages his customers to cook by sending them recipes every week through his newsletter. We’re happy to have him back creating some special dishes just for WW readers.

If you’re like me, you often find yourself looking at the hard, stale end of naturally leavened, dark-crusted, and rather expensive loaf of bread. While it’s tempting to just toss it in the compost, do this instead: Cut it into rough cubes, spread them onto a sheet pan or anything flat, and let them dry for a few days on your kitchen counter. When the cubes feel like rocks, store them in a jar or bag where they’ll keep pretty much forever. Eventually you’ll have enough to make this savory bread pudding.

(You could just cut up a fresh loaf and dry the bread in a low oven, but that runs counter to the concept of using something you’d otherwise throw away.)

Bread pudding runs sweet more often than savory, although things like turkey dressing at Thanksgiving, the darling of the 1980s brunch called strata, and panade, the obscure forerunner to French onion soup, are all close cousins to the savory side of the family. Its eggy, custardy quality sets bread pudding apart, and it plays just as well with slowly cooked aromatic vegetables and lots of cheese as it does with sugar and fruit.

Fennel and Onion Bread Pudding

6 cups dried bread from a rustic, country style loaf

6 eggs

1 ½ cups milk*

1 bulb fennel, chopped

1 onion, chopped

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher style sea salt

6 ounces Swiss or Gruyère cheese, grated

*If I’ve got some in the refrigerator, I’ll mix about a ½ cup of cream with a cup of milk instead

Beat the eggs and milk in a large bowl, add the bread, and let sit for at least a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

Cook the fennel and onion in the olive oil and salt over medium low heat until well browned, about 25 minutes. Let it cool, then mix with the bread cube mixture along with the cheese.

Drizzle a little more olive oil into a heavy 10-inch skillet or comparably sized baking dish. Add the bread mixture, spreading it into an even layer. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour or until the top is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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