This dish is great for brunch as well as for dinner.
(These spring vegetables can be substituted for other seasonal ingredients for different times of the year.)
- Nonstick spray for the pan
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups chopped onions
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 6 to 8 cups sliced domestic mushrooms (1 1/2 pounds)
- 1/3 pound shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and minced
- 3/4 pound asparagus, trimmed (tough stem ends discarded) and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1/4 cup dry sherry
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 3 cups bread cubes (1/2-inch pieces)*
- 5 large eggs
- 2 cups milk (low-fat okay)
- 1 cup walnuts
- 1 cup (packed) grated medium sharp cheddar (optional)
- Sour cream, yogurt, or crème fraîche (optional)
*ABOUT THE BREAD: For best results, use a country-style bread with a crisp crust and an airy, chewy interior (what's known in bread-speak as a "high crust to crumb ratio"). I like to use levain braids, which have some whole wheat flour in the dough. These breads are often called sweet batard, ciabatta, or pugliese. If you can't find any of these, use stale French or Italian bread.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (325°F for a glass pan). Lightly spray a 9 X 13-inch baking pan with nonstick spray.
- Place a large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat, and add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions, herbs, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Sauté over medium heat for about 8 minutes, or until the onions are soft.
- Add the mushrooms and the remaining salt. Sauté for about 5 minutes, then add the asparagus, cover and cook for about 10 minutes longer over medium heat.
- Stir in the garlic, sherry, and lemon juice. Cook, stirring, for just a few minutes longer, then remove from the heat. Grind in some black pepper.
- Distribute the bread cubes evenly in the prepared pan. Spread the vegetable mixture on top of the bread, being sure to include all the liquid.
- Combine the eggs and milk in a blender or a food processor, and whip until smooth. Pour the liquid mixture over the bread and mushrooms, and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Use your finger or a spoon to poke the bread into the liquid until all the pieces are soaked. Sprinkle walnuts on top and add the cheese, if desired.
- Bake in the center of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the custard is almost set. (It's okay if it is still slightly wet on top, as it will continue to cook from its own heat for a few minutes after it comes out of the oven.)
- Cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature, with a dab of sour cream, yogurt, or crème fraîche —and/or salsa—on top of each serving, if desired.
This tastes best served hot or warm, and reheats perfectly well in a microwave. In fact, sometimes it tastes even better reheated, which should encourage you to make this dish at any time.