Slivers of Fontina cheese are dotted throughout this savory pudding, lending bursts of rich flavor. Save up your leftover bread for a week before making this dish, which makes a beautiful, unexpected side dish or meatless main course — just add a simple green salad. Heavy breads create a dense pudding, while lighter ones yield a softer texture.
Bread Pudding with Asparagus and Fontina Cheese
8-12 thick slices stale bread, each slice cut in half
2 1/2 cups (20 fl. oz./625 ml.) whole milk, plus more if needed
5 large eggs
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 lb. (500 g.) asparagus, tough ends removed, and cut on the diagonal into 2-inch (5-cm.) lengths
1/2 cup (3/4 oz./20 g.) chopped mixed fresh herbs such as chives, flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, thyme, and marjoram
1/4 cup (1 oz./30 g.) freshly grated Romano cheese
1/2 lb. (250 g.) Fontina cheese, slivered
1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Place the bread in a shallow dish and pour the milk over the top. Let soak until the bread has absorbed the milk and softened. Depending on the hardness of the bread, this will take from 5-30 minutes. Squeeze the bread slices to extract the milk. Measure the milk extracted; you should have 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml.). If not, make up the difference with additional milk. Set the bread and milk aside separately.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Butter one large 12-inch (30-cm.) shallow baking dish or two smaller 8-inch (20-cm.) shallow baking dishes or ramekins. In a bowl, beat together the eggs, salt, pepper and reserved milk until well blended. Arrange the bread in the prepared baking dish. Set 6-8 asparagus tips aside and top the bread with the remaining asparagus and the mixed herbs. Sprinkle the cheeses over the asparagus. Pour the milk-egg mixture over the top, and dot with the butter. Bake until the top is crusty brown and a knife inserted into the middle of the pudding comes out clean, about 45 minutes. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, top with the reserved asparagus tips. Let the pudding stand for 15 minutes before serving. Serves 6-8.