This is a wonderful way to use up stale bread, cheese that is past its best or that half bag of spinach in the fridge that looks as if it might go watery at any moment. What it produces is a delicious, puffy, soufflé like dish that only needs a simple salad to make a hearty supper. If there are any left overs, you can cut it into squares to eat cold for lunch the next day. Veggies and meat=eaters-alike will love it.
You need a lazy Saturday afternoon perhaps to take the simple prep in the stages that will give the best result – the bread ideally needs a few hours to absorb the creamy cheese mixture. This recipe works best with good quality white bread – for instance sourdough or a traditionally made bloomer.
Money was short when I was growing up and it was considered appalling to waste food. My parents would have regarded use-by dates as laughable – if it looked and smelt OK then it probably was. Leftovers were used up with skill and ingenuity. I am shocked at those reports suggesting that up to a third of the food we buy is thrown away and I have reduced wastage myself by buying more carefully and thinking about ways to use leftovers without compromising food safety, taste or quality.
3 slices of stale sourdough or other good quality bread
120g mixed hard cheese, for instance Cheddar and Parmesan, grated
150ml single cream
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Black pepper to taste
I teaspoon English mustard
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 red onions finely sliced
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Pinch of sugar
2 garlic cloves, crushed
150g young spinach (or 3 cubes of thawed frozen spinach)
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
Trim the crusts from the bread and cut it into 5cm squares – precision is not important. Set aside a handful of the grated cheese. Lightly beat the eggs, milk, cream and the rest of the grated cheese in a shallow bowl and add the salt, pepper, mustard and cayenne. Add the bread pieces, handling them gently. Leave it all to soak for at least 30 minutes, ideally two hours at room temperature. Meanwhile, fry the sliced onions over a medium heat until they become translucent, then add the balsamic vinegar, the sugar and the crushed garlic. Let the onions colour until you have a sticky caramelised mass. Add the spinach and let it wilt. Set the onion and spinach mixture aside to cool. Strip the leaves from the rosemary and chop them into dust.
Pre heat the oven to 180 degrees. Butter an oven proof gratin dish or small roasting tray. Lay the bread pieces in a single layer across the bottom. Sprinkle the rosemary leaves over the bread then smooth the cooled onion mixture in a layer over that. Pour the milk, cream and cheese mixture over the onions, finishing by sprinkling the reserved cheese evenly over the top. Put it in the oven for 30 minutes or until the pudding is puffy, slightly wobbly and well browned on top. Serve immediately with a green salad.