Last week, I took a free class offered through my place of employment. It was an artisan bread class taught by Josh Allen, founder of Companion Bread in St. Louis. It wasn't a class about MAKING artisan bread, though he does those at Kitchen Conservatory, and I may have to take it one of these days. It was a class on what to do with the bread you purchase.
One of the recipes he demo'd was from this really neat program Companion is doing with local restaurants called CollaBREADtive. What happens is every month, Companion comes up with a bread for a restaurant, and the chef comes up with a dish using that bread. This month Karen Hoffman from Cielo, Downtown, is working with Companion's Fennel Semolina & Raisin Bread. She came up with a savory bread pudding(PDF) to serve with pork. Yum. The class came with a complimentary loaf of the bread, so I had to recreate this bread pudding at home. This is not my first savory bread pudding experience, and my other one involved fennel as well! I like the addition of raisins in this one, but it was not as much as a meal on it's own as the other one was. It was really yummy, though. And while this bread is not available everywhere, and might be limited edition, you can easily subtitute regular french bread or your favorite artisan bread, and add golden raisins and fennel seeds to the recipe. I did not smoosh my bread into the custard very well, so I ended up having a lot of crunchy cubes of bread on mine, which was fine, because who doesn't like croutons?
savory bread pudding with raisins and bacon (adapted from Karen Hoffman's Bread Pudding)
1 loaf Companion Fennel Semolina & Raisin Bread
1/4 cup olive oil
5 strips thick-cut bacon, cut into bite-size pieces
4 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, shopped fine
2 cups whole milk
6 large eggs
salt & pepper
Cut bread into small cubes, and toast in a 250º oven for about 20 minutes, until crunchy and golden. Turn oven to 375º. Butter a 13x9 glass baking dish. Cook bacon in a skillet until browned and almost crispy. set aside on paper towels. In about 2 teaspoons of the bacon fat, cook garlic and shallots until softened. In a bowl, mix together the bacon, olive oil, garlic, shallots, parsley and thyme. Toss this mixture with the bread cubes, then toss in 1/2 cup up the parmesan. Spread bread mixture in the baking dish. Whisk eggs, then whisk in the milk. season with salt and pepper, then pour over the bread in the baking dish. Gently smoosh the bread down with your hands to get the liquid well-distributed. Bake uncovered for about an hour, adding the remaining cheese to the top after about 30 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.