As I’ve mentioned recently, I’ve become quite taken with bread puddings. They’re so versatile, serving as super yummy desserts at one meal, and hearty, savory sides at another.
Today’s wild mushroom bread pudding would make a fabulous Thanksgiving side, as an alternative to stuffing (which I know is not everyone’s cup of tea). Not custardy like its dessert form, the eggs in this recipe add a pleasant creaminess, in contrast to stuffing’s sometimes crusty edges (or, if you’re not careful, soggy bread — yipers).
Wild mushrooms are a favorite winter ingredient — use what you can find, or what you really love. Creminis, shiitakes, and oyster mushrooms should be easy to find at the store. Dried porcinis are da bomb, if you can find them affordably (rehydrate them first according to package directions).
I have a huge sage bush in my yard that I planted for reasons unknown. I don’t use sage very often, yet the thing grows larger and larger every year. So this recipe seems particularly suited to use up a bit of the lovely plant, and indeed, fried sage finishes off the wild mushroom bread pudding quite well, blending perfectly with the mushroom and sausage flavors. Sage is such an iconic Thanksgiving herb that sage-topped wild mushroom bread pudding will slide easily onto your table among your other dishes. Or, keep stuffing on the menu, and make the bread pudding to go with the turkey leftovers (in my family, there’s never leftover stuffing — it’s the first side dish to be demolished).
If I ever host Thanksgiving dinner, it would be really hard to resist the temptation to forego the turkey entirely and just serve all sides: creamy roasted garlic mashed potatoes, thick and chunky homemade cranberry sauce, stuffing, green beans, sweet-potato-something … and wild mushroom bread pudding (yes, right along side the stuffing — we love our bready side dishes!).
And — of course — pies for days.
Carb coma, here we come!
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 8 to 10 medium to large fresh sage leaves, chopped
- 2 links sweet Italian sausage, skin removed, crumbled
- 3 leeks, chopped, white and light green parts only
- 8 oz mushroom mix (cremini, shiitake, oyster, porcini)
- 3 large eggs
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 6 cups cubed country bread (1" pieces)
- 3 ounces Gruyère, grated (1 loosely packed cup)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium until shimmering. Add the chopped sage leaves, and saute until just crisp. Spoon them out of the pan (leaving the oil behind) and set aside on a plate.
- Add the remaining oil, the sausage, and leeks, and cook until the sausage begins to brown up. Add the mushrooms, and cover the skillet with a lid or foil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have given off their liquids, and the sausage is browned, and the leeks are soft. Season with salt and pepper, give another quick stir, then remove from the skillet and set aside to cool almost to room temperature.
- In a very large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, dairy, and a big pinch each of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Fold in the bread cubes until completely coated, followed by the mostly-cooled mushroom mixture and the cheese.
- Transfer to a 2 to 2 1/2 quart baking dish. Sprinkle the fried sage leaves over the top, cover the dish with foil, and bake until the edges are set (the center will still be a bit wobbly) for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 20 minutes more.