This I have to say wasn’t half bad for an on-the-spot improvisation. It’s a tad rough-looking, what Saveur magazine would called “rustic”, which is of course code for “sloppy”. But then that’s what makes me Joe Pastry instead of Józef Pastry (what a stuck-up twit that guy is…though I have to admit, he does great work). Presented with this for a casual Sunday dinner, the wife was amazed. Just goes to show what can be achieved when you let your ingredients lead, since there’s nothing very special going on here. The pudding is simply cubed and toasted bread doused in a firm custard with some Parmigiano-Reggiano mixed in. What makes it unique is the caramel sauce, which marries just about perfectly with the cheese. Were I to do this again, I’d add a tablespoon or so of good-quality tomato paste to the caramel, since I felt it could have used a little extra tomato kick. Here’s the recipe in case you’re interested:
1 loaf crusty bread (such as a levain)
3 tablespoons soft butter
3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 teaspoon salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
Slice the bread, butter it, and toast it under the broiler until browned. Cool and cut into cubes. Turn oven down to 350. Lightly grease 6 6-ounce ramekins. Toss the cubed bread with the cheese and portion out among the dishes. Combine eggs, milk, salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Pour the mixture over the bread. Tent each ramekin in aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes, or until the custard is nearly set. Remove foil, top with additional sprinkling of cheese. Turn oven up to 375 and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
Let the puddings cool and firm up for at least 20 minutes before attempting to remove them from the ramekins (which you can do by running an icing spatula or broad butter knife around the edges, then prying them up gently from below). The puddings are excellent at room temperature, so there’s no need to rush to extract them. Arrange on plates, drizzle tomato caramel sauce all around, and garnish with best-available cherry tomatoes or Sweet 100’s.
Though this is a rather sweet dish, it goes brilliantly with a simply green salad tossed in a light vinaigrette. Add a glass of fruity white wine (this is one instance where you’ll want something on the sweet side) and you’ve got an excellent light summer supper or Sunday brunch.