Many Chicagoans struggle this time of the year. We generally know what to expect during the winter months: snow covered streets and grey skies that seem to linger forever. But temperature dips in April and May leave us wondering if spring will ever arrive. A visit to Green City Market - where stacks of asparagus and layers of green garlic have appeared - proves there's no need to worry. Mother Nature has moved on. The market's cornucopia also includes an array of locally grown mushrooms and herbs including dill, sage, and cilantro, thanks to hoophouses.
When I headed to Green City's grand opening, I knew I had to have a recipe in hand or I'd buy more produce than I needed (as if overloading my fridge could hasten spring's arrival). I settled on a cozy asparagus bread pudding. A serving of this rustic dish - with asparagus buried in cushions of custard and mushrooms nestled under crusty bread - helped me tide the chilly weather that had Windy City residents bundled up...in May!
TIP: Asparagus spears have woody ends that many cooks snap off and discard. However, you can peel away the strawy outside layer. The flesh beneath it is tender and delicious.
ASPARAGUS BREAD PUDDING
1/2 pound crusty bread
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup green garlic, finely chopped
1 pound asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup white mushrooms, sliced
2 cups whole milk
3 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 ounce feta cheese
1) Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the bread loaf in two and place each half on a baking sheet, crust down. Cook until the surface browns.
2) Remove the bread from the oven and tear in to 2-inch pieces.
3) Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet on medium-low. Add the green garlic and saute until tender.
4) Add the asparagus and mushrooms. Cook until the asparagus becomes tender.
5) Whisk together the milk, eggs, mustard, basil, black pepper, and salt.
6) Coat a 9-x-13 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Layer half of the bread in the bottom of the dish. Cover with the asparagus mixture. Cover with the remaining bread and sprinkle with the feta cheese.
7) Pour in the egg mixture. Cover and chill for 2 hours, or overnight.
8) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the bread pudding for 25 minutes or until the center is set. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.