Unlike years past, where our Boston hosts, Bryan and LeeMichael, chose a specific country to toast in food and drink, this party’s culinary theme would be farm-to-table in honor of the newly-renovated 200-year-old farmhouse that we were celebrating in.
Don’t think the deliciously ironic twist of choosing this menu during one of the most dormant growing seasons of the year was lost on us. I nixed scary genetically engineered Chilean tomatoes in favor of a menu that showed off what a gal could do with few bulbs and roots.
The platters of Rubenesque roasted chickens, freshly smoked ham from a neighbor’s Pennsylvania farm, sweet and crunchy fennel and apple salad, and enough small-producer American cheeses to start our own dairy left no one lamenting the lack of summer corn, heirloom tomatoes or delicate spring asparagus. Plates were licked clean, rugs were rolled back for dancing, and we welcomed the coming year with full glasses and bellies.
And no one could keep their forks out of the kale, leek and bacon bread pudding. Loosely inspired by the leek bread pudding in Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home, the dish is also the latest in my ongoing quest to convince the population at large that kale is the greatest of greens. Judging from the reaction to the two(!) casseroles that were demolished over the course of the night, I’d say kale has a few new fans in the Boston area. The bacon fat permeating each bread cube no doubt did its part to help the cause, but never stole the show.
In the wee hours of January 1, Bryan, LeeMichael, Dan, and I picked at the last toasty bits in the casserole dish with our fingers, savoring the final minutes of the night and marveling at how quickly and splendidly another New Year’s party passed before our eyes. Here’s to next year, guys, and many more to come.
Kale, Leek and Bacon Bread Pudding
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Makes 8-10 servings
- 1 bunch kale
- 2 small to medium leeks, or 1 big honking leek
- 3 slices thick-cut bacon—when I don’t have my own bacon, I love the applewood smoked version from Niman Ranch
- 1 loaf ciabatta or other rustic Italian bread
- olive oil
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups cream
- 2 cups milk
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Thoroughly wash the kale and the leeks. De-stem the kale by folding each leaf over like a book and running the knife up the side of the stem to remove. Slice both the kale and the leeks horizontally into thin ribbons.
Slice the bacon horizontally into 1/2-inch thick strips and scrape into a large saute pan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, as the bacon renders its fat. When the bacon begins to crisp, add the leeks and continue to stir occasionally until they soften. Stir the kale (you may have to add it in two batches to make room as it wilts), and cover to cook the kale until tender.
While the bacon and vegetables cook, cut the bread into 1-inch cubes, toss with a few tbsp olive oil, and spread them evenly on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes to lightly toast the cubes, then transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Once the kale is tender, toss the bacon and vegetables with the bread cubes until well-mixed, then pour into a 9×13-inch casserole dish.
Whisk the eggs, cream, milk, and black pepper until fully blended and smooth. Pour evenly over the bread in the casserole dish, then bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the liquid has set and the bread is golden brown and crispy on top.