2 cups coarsely chopped fennel (from 1 medium bulb)
2/3 cup finely chopped celery (from 2 medium stalks)
2 cupsheavy cream
1 cup low-sodium chicken, mushroom, or vegetable broth
4 large eggs
12 ouncesciabatta or other country-style bread, medium dice (about 8 cups)
1 cup coarsely grated aged pecorino (about 3 ounces), such as Gran Pecorino (not Pecorino Romano)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves
Makes:8 to 10 servings
Stuffing is essential on the holiday table, loaded as it is with bread and just enough vegetables to sop up gravy while feigning healthiness. Switch things up to offer the noncarnivores a chance at a real meal, and try this bread pudding (using vegetable or mushroom broth). Filled with sautéed mushrooms, fennel, pecorino cheese, and a light custard that holds it all together, this is sure to please meat eaters and vegetarians alike.
What to buy: Pecorino is an Italian cheese made with sheep’s milk. Here we use Gran Pecorino, an aged cheese that can be found at high-end groceries and cheese stores. Do not use Pecorino Romano for this recipe; it’s too salty. If you can’t find Gran Pecorino, aged Asiago is a good substitute.
Game plan: Use mushroom broth instead of chicken broth to make this vegetarian.
The bread pudding can be baked up to 1 day ahead and brought to room temperature or warmed in a 350°F oven prior to serving.
1Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. When it foams, add the onion, season well with salt and pepper, and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms, fennel, and celery; season well with salt and pepper; and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and the mushroom juices have reduced, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly in the pan, at least 10 minutes.
2Heat the oven to 375°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Coat a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with butter and set aside. Whisk together the cream, chicken broth, and eggs in a large bowl until smooth.
3Add the bread, cooled vegetables, cheese, and herbs to the cream mixture and stir until the bread is well coated. Season well with salt and pepper, then turn into the prepared baking dish. Allow the bread to soak until well saturated, at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, bring about 10 cups of water to a simmer over high heat in a large pot.
4Once the bread has soaked and the water is simmering, set the baking dish in a large roasting pan and add enough hot water to reach halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake until the custard is set and the top is lightly browned, about 50 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.