Roasted Tomato Bread Pudding
A few weeks ago, in response to a challenge from Alanna at A Veggie Venture by Kitchen Parade, I developed a Tomato Bread Pudding using ingredients that happened to be in my kitchen the day I got Alanna's email. It was good, and it looked great, but as I thought about the result I felt it could have been better -- primarily in the area of the tomato flavor, and also in the area of texture.
This version addresses, successfully, I think, both of those considerations. The primary improvement is the use of Slow-Roasted Tomatoes instead of canned whole tomatoes. Also, I omitted the tomato paste that was in the first version primarily to intensify the tomato red color. Both of these canned tomato products, while useful in a lot of recipes, inserted a too-strong flavor that was reminiscent of nothing so much as...canned tomatoes! I think the tomato paste also added a bit too much acidity.
The Slow-Roasted Tomatoes - about 1/4 of which were golden tomatoes, said to be acid-free - did not deliver the darker red color of the canned products - but they did provide intense and clean tomato flavor, reminiscent of fresh sweet tomatoes. Of course, by going from open-a-couple-of-cans to roast-the-tomatoes-for-eight-hours I've taken the Tomato Bread Pudding recipe from the "Quick-and-Easy" category to the "Slow-and-More-Complicated" zone, but this is a change I'm always ready to make when the payoff is deeper, more satisfying flavor that's truer to the contribution of its main ingredients.
The other major change I made from the earlier version is that the bread is more loosely packed into the pudding shell before the custard is introduced. This allowed the bread to more completely soak up the custard, with a result that the pudding was creamy throughout, instead of having some drier parts where the custard hadn't fully penetrated the bread before cooking. No matter how tightly or loosely the bread is packed, however, this problem can be minimized by allowing sufficient "resting" time after the pudding is assembled before it's cooked.
Also, shredded Parmeggiano Reggiano was added to the top, for visual and taste interest, and I switched from a medley of oregano, thyme and sage to all basil, pretty much on a whim that hit me when I was in the herb garden with my shears, but also I think that the combination of tomatoes, basil, onions, cream and cheese is so classic that it deserves to have life in a new dish.
Also, I made the pudding this time in individual tart pans, which made the cooking time slightly shorter and the resting time both before and after the cooking shorter.
I'd love to get comments on this ongoing investigation, especially (but not only!) if anyone has actually tried the recipes! By the way, this was served as a side to Craig's Grilled Lime-Garlic Chicken with Steamed Brocolli.
Roasted Tomato Bread Pudding
1-1/2 C heavy cream
2-1/2 C slow-roasted tomatoes, with juice, cut up
1 large egg
2 egg yolks
1 day-old loaf country white bread
12 red pear tomatoes, halved
1 medium onion, chopped
1 T butter
4 T basil, minced
1/2 C Parmeggiano Reggiano
salt, hot sauce, to taste
Butter 4 individual tart pans, about 4" in diameter. Cut crusts from the bread in thin sheets, with one dimension about the same as the height of the pans. Stand these pieces in sort of a "fence" around the perimeter of the pan, with the cut sides facing inward. Cut the rest of the bread in 1/2" cubes and place them loosely in the well created by the bread fence, allowing them to mound up slightly at the center. (It is possible that all the bread will not be needed; do not compress bread to make it all fit.)
Sauté the onion in 1 T butter slowly, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until translucent.
Toss the pear tomato halves in a tablespoon of olive oil.
Beat the egg and yolks briefly with a fork and then mix well with the cream, cooked onions, roasted tomatoes and their juice, garlic and 3/4 of the basil. Correct seasoning.
Pour cream / tomato mixture over the bread, to cover the bread. (There may be some left over, depending on the size of the pan and how tightly packed the bread is. Any leftover custard can be used for Tomato Flan, cooked in ramekins as directed below, or, if you have leftover bread cubes, as small individual bread pudding cups. Leftover custard can also be put aside to be used as an enrichment for a soup.)
Allow pudding to sit for 20-30 minutes, then set in a pan of boiling water that reaches halfway up the sides of the tart pan and bake in a preheated 350º oven about 40 minutes. After the first 20 minutes, spread the cheese over the top of the puddings, lay the pear tomato halves into the cheese in a decorative pattern and scatter on the reserved basil. A tester should come out almost dry when the puddings are done.
Set the puddings under the broiler for a minute or two, watching carefully, to slightly brown the edges and the cheese and finish cooking the decorative tomato halves.
Allow puddings to rest at least 15 minutes before unmolding.