I’ve been wanting to try this since we had a bread pudding with dandelion greens at Higgins last year. I got so excited about that dish at the time that the bartender said “You want the recipe? Lemme go ask the cook!” and brought back a scrap of thermal paper with a rudimentary recipe scribbled on it, in what I prefer to believe is Greg Higgins’ handwriting. Using that recipe as a start, and Pierre Franey’s recipe for apple bread pudding as an aid, Holly and I put this dish together. It worked marvelously.
The Higgins recipe mentioned grilling the greens, which I thought might be a chefly pretense, but we decided to try roasting the kale as a substitute measure. The result is superb, and, I think, crucial. The dry, high heat removes some of the water from the leaves, crisps the edges, and concentrates the sugars. The kale held its texture and shape in the finished dish as a result, and the flavor was magnificent.
I think this recipe would work well with any greens or combination of greens, but especially the more assertive greens that sometimes verge on bitter, like kale, collards, dandelion, or mustard. I now have a mind to try it with dry roasted mushrooms, or shredded roasted beets, or broccoli . . . it seems like a versatile base for vegetable flavors and textures.
Of course, the really wonderful thing about bread pudding is that it uses up eggs, milk, and bread ends. It’s a practical dish with a glamorous flavor.
10 oz brioche loaf or other bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
8 oz (or so) curly-leaf kale or other tasty winter greens, washed, leaves stripped from tough stems and torn into small pieces
3 med leeks, white and some green, cut in half lengthwise and then crosswise into half-inch pieces, and soaked in a couple changes of water to remove grit
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup cream
3 cups whole milk
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, minced
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 450Â°F.
Toss kale leaves with a little olive oil. Spread out on baking sheets and roast in the hot oven for about 10 minutes. The kale will wilt slightly, and then crisp at the edges. Perfect. Remove the kale from the oven and put it in a bowl.
Lower the oven temp to 400Â°F.
Saute the leeks and garlic in butter until tender but not browned. Remove from heat and set aside in a bowl.
Beat eggs and milk together with salt, pepper and thyme.
Mix egg mixture, greens, leeks and garlic, and cubed bread together in a big mixing bowl. Pour the mixture into a 9×14-inch baking dish, scraping out the last bits with a rubber spatula. Place the baking dish into a larger pan such as a roasting pan or hotel pan. Put the pans carefully into the oven. Pour boiling water into the outer pan, ideally to the depth of the bread pudding mixture, taking care not to splash any water into the bread pudding!
Cover the baking dish loosely with foil.
Bake at 400Â°F for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes. Check for doneness in the middle of the pan; if the custard is cooked, a knife inserted into the middle will come out clean.
Remove from oven, let cool slightly, and serve.