Asparagus Bread Pudding With Spring Onions
1 lb. asparagus, stems peeled leaving tops plus 1″ unpeeled
1 bunch green onions, washed and trimmed
1 large loaf pain de campagne (French for “country bread”), at least one day old and preferably several
3-1/2 oz. prosciutto, cut into 1″ strips
8 oz. soft unripened chèvre cheese
6 large eggs
2-1/2 cups milk (homogenized or 2%)
2-1/2 cups whipping cream (35%)
2 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup loosely packed chopped fresh Italian parsley
3 tbsp finely chopped chives
2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon leaves
Butter for baking dish
Step 1: Preheat oven to 350°F. Blanche asparagus in boiling salted water for 2 minutes then transfer immediately to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain, and cut each stalk in half; reserve. Cut white part of the green onions diagonally into 1/3″ rounds, and green part into 1″ pieces; set aside.
Step 2: Butter a large shallow casserole or baking dish (2-3 quarts), preferably ceramic or glass. Trim heaviest crust from bread, and cut into 1″ by about 2″ pieces (don’t worry about being exact here, large bite-sized pieces are what you’re after.) Arrange bread in the prepared dish. Scatter asparagus spears, green onion pieces, and prosciutto amongst the bread, nestling the other ingredients into the dish, aiming for an even distribution. Do the same with a little more than half the chèvre cheese, using a spoon to tuck dollops of cheese here and there between bread and other bits.
Step 3: Place remaining cheese in a medium mixing bowl. Add one egg, and whisk until mostly combined (don’t worry about lumps). Add remaining eggs, two at a time, whisking well after each addition. Whisk in milk and cream. Season custard with salt and pepper to taste, and stir in chopped fresh herbs.
Step 4: Slowly pour custard over ingredients in baking dish, making sure herbs are relatively evenly distributed. Use the back of a wooden spoon to gently press top of the mixture, forcing the bread down into the custard. Do this over the whole surface of the dish, then let mixture sit for 5-10 minutes.
Step 5: Just before baking, press down on bread once more. Bake in the centre of oven for 45-65 minutes, depending on size and depth of dish. Check frequently after first 40 minutes to avoid curdling custard. Pudding is done when it is puffed and golden on top, and no liquid custard seeps through when a finger pushes gently on bread in centre. Cool at least 5 minutes before serving; can be served warm or at room temperature.