Although my husband swears that this mixture is “the best stuffing,” it’s not a stuffing. It does resemble a baked stuffing, though, since the exterior is golden brown and wonderfully crisp on top. But, this savory bread pudding is lighter and creamier than stuffing. This recipe provides a great way to use yesterday’s Italian loaf, since it’s new, slightly drier texture, is now perfectly suited for an absorptive bread pudding. You know, that’s part of the kitchen dance. Utilizing ingredients in ways that will help them shine perfectly, without ever having to apologize for their reincarnation.
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First lightly toast the bread crumbs on a shallow baking sheet in a 350oF oven, until dry and light golden, about 10 minutes. Keep the oven set at 350F and transfer the crumbs to a mixing bowl. Brush the interior of a 2-quart, oven-to-table baking dish with olive oil.
Steep them in the boiling water until supple, 10 to 20 minutes. Use your hand to lift the mushrooms out of the water, squeezing them, gently, to release any excess liquid back into the bowl. Chop the reconstituted mushrooms and set them aside. Place a fine-mesh wire sieve over a bowl and line the sieve with a doubled layer of dampened cheese cloth (see Note). Strain the mushroom liquid through the cheesecloth, into the bowl. Measure out 1/2 cup mushroom liquid and set this aside. Measure the rest, which should be a scant 3/4 cup. (If necessary, add some water to reach 3/4 cup.)
Note: If you don’t have the sieve or cheese cloth, carefully pour the liquid, as directed, leaving behind any sediment from the bottom.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a 12-inch, heavy-bottomed deep-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter is hot and bubbling, stir in the minced onions and cook them, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add half the minced thyme and some salt and black pepper, to taste. Transfer the onions to the bowl of bread crumbs and, without wiping out the pan, put it back over medium-high heat with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is hot, stir in all the chopped fresh mushrooms and, when wilted, stir in the minced garlic and let the mushrooms cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until golden and any released liquid has evaporated. Stir in the remaining thyme, the chopped reconstituted mushrooms and salt and pepper, to taste. When hot, transfer the mushrooms to the bowl of bread crumbs and onions.
Replace the pan over high heat and add 1/2 cup of the mushroom liquid. As the liquid bubbles, use the flat edge of a wooden spatula to release any clinging bits of mushrooms from the bottom of the pan and reduce the liquid to a generous 1/4 cup. Pour this reduction into the bowl of bread crumbs and vegetables.
Preheat the oven to 350oF. Use a whisk to combine the cream with the eggs and 3/4 cup mushroom liquid. Stir in the truffle oil, if using, and season the custard with salt and pepper. When ready to bake, pour the custard over the bread mixture and fold through to combine well. Transfer this to the prepared baking dish and dot the top with 1 tablespoon of butter. Bake the bread pudding, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese over the top and continue to bake, until the top is golden, the pudding is swollen and the custard is set, about 25 minutes more. Serve piping hot.
If using fresh bread, make the crumbs one day ahead. Or, make the crumbs weeks ahead and freeze them in doubled sealed heavy-duty plastic bags. No need to thaw before using.
All of the vegetables can be assembled one day ahead and kept refrigerated, in securely covered bowls.
For best texture, I suggest baking the bread pudding soon after assembling. However, you can put combine the bread with the sautéed vegetable mixture and mix your custard ingredients, up to two hours ahead, and keep them on your counter at a comfortable room temperature (separately).