Savory Bread Pudding Layered with Asparagus, Fontina Cheese, and Mixed Spring Herbs
Served with slices of smoky ham or grilled salmon fillets, this pudding is a good late breakfast or brunch dish.
12 to 16 thick slices dry bread
2-1/2 to 3 cups milk
1 lb. asparagus
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
4 ounces Fontina cheese, slivered
4 ounces Swiss cheese, slivered
1/2 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as chives, parsley, and tarragon; or sage, thyme, and marjoram
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small bits
Place bread in a single layer in a shallow dish. Add 2-1/2 cups milk. Let soak until bread has absorbed milk and becomes soft, about 30 minutes. Press bread slices to extract milk. Measure milk and add enough to make 1/2 cup if necessary. Set milk and bread aside.
While bread is soaking, trim asparagus, removing woody ends. Cut stalks on the diagonal into thin slivers each about 2 inches long and 3/8-inch thick. Steam over gently boiling water, covered, until barely tender, 2 or 3 minutes. Immediately place under cold-running water until cold. Drain and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 3-quart mold -- a souffle dish works well. In a bowl beat together eggs, salt, pepper, and the 1/2 cup milk until well blended. Layer 1/3 of the bread in the prepared dish. Set 6 to 8 asparagus slivers aside and top the bread layer with half of the remaining asparagus and half of the mixed herbs.
Strew 1/3 of each of the cheeses over asparagus. Repeat layers, using half of the remaining bread, all of the remaining asparagus and herbs and half of the remaining cheeses.
Arrange remaining bread on top, strew remaining cheese over it, and garnish with reserved asparagus. Pour milk-egg mixture over layers and dot with butter.
Bake in preheated oven until top is crusty brown and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Serves 6 to 8.