Yield
Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish or 8 to 9 as a first course or side dish
Time
45 minutes prep, 1-1/2 hours oven time + 15 minutes rest time cooking, 2 hours and 30 minutes total

This was Lynne's first taste of the south of France -- the place she’d fantasized about since sighting her first Van Gogh in high school. When she finally got there, summer was at full tilt "with tomatoes so come-hither she imagined them hanging out on street corners swinging their beads."

That first pudding was about good tomatoes, cream, bread and cheese -- a quartet that should be stenciled on kitchen walls as the ultimate can’t-miss, fallback dish.  

Opening the meal with Smoked Trout and Watercress Salad gives the pudding a proper French setting.

Cook to Cook: We check meat temperatures all the time, but rarely do the same with egg dishes. Egg custards made with starch or flour (we include bread here) should reach 170ºF. to kill off the enzyme that will have the cooked custard liquefy with standing. With this pudding, where the custard is partnered with bread and sauce, it’s best to take it to between 200ºF. and 210ºF. and then give it at least a 15-minute rest before serving.

Makes an 8-inch-square baking dish of pudding and doubles easily. Tomato sauce and custard could be done a day ahead and refrigerated.

Wine: Look for a medium-bodied, fresh red like a young Bandol or Provencal red.

Tomato Sauce

  • Good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 medium to large onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Very generous pinch hot red pepper flakes
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tightly packed tablespoons fresh basil, torn
  • 1-3/4 to 2 pounds good-tasting tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped (do not seed or peel), or 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes with liquid
  • Olive oil for the baking dish
  • 7- to 8-inch piece of baguette, a couple of days old if possible, cut into 1-inch thick rounds

Custard

  • 5 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or to taste
  • 1 cup half and half, or heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole or skim milk
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Flavorings

  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 4 ounces firm, fresh, whole milk sheep or cow cheese, or cream cheese, thinly sliced
  • 10 fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 1/4 cup pitted Niçoise or oil-cured Moroccan olives
  • 1 good-tasting medium tomato, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds, or 1 cup halved, flavorful grape tomatoes

1. Make the tomato sauce: Lightly film a 4-quart saucepan with the olive oil. Heat over medium-high. Add the onion with some salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes and cook until golden. Stir in the garlic and basil, and cook 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, breaking them up as they go into the pan. Bring the sauce to a lively bubble and cook, uncovered, 10 to 15 minutes or until thick. Stir often with a flat wood spatula to keep from sticking. Taste for seasoning. Cover and set aside 15 to 20 minutes to mellow or refrigerate up to 24 hours. 

2. Assemble the pudding: While the sauce cooks, oil an 8-inch square glass baking dish. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Cover the bottom of the dish completely with the bread slices. 

3. Make the custard: In a large bowl, whisk together in a large bowl the eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, half-and-half, milk, and Parmigiano cheese. Pour half the custard over the bread and let it soak in for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of the feta cheese, and half the slices of the fresh cheese. Tuck in half the basil leaves.

4. Cover everything with the tomato sauce. Pour in the rest of the custard, scatter the olives over the custard, push the sliced tomatoes and rest of the basil leaves into the custard, cover with the rest of the fresh cheese and sprinkle with the remaining feta.  

5. Cover with foil and bake 45 minutes, then raise the heat to 375ºF. and bake 25 to 30 minutes. Finally, uncover and bake another 20 minutes, or until the thermometer inserted near the center of the pudding reads 200ºF. to 210ºF.  Let the pudding rest at room temperature 15 minutes. Serve it hot or just warm. 

Variations:

Charred Ginger-Chile Corn Pudding: Instead of the tomato sauce, use a batch of Charred Ginger-Chile Corn. Follow the recipe as written, using the corn instead of the tomato sauce. Puree 1/2 cup of fresh corn and add it to the custard. 

Bread and Butter Jam Pudding: To turn the pudding into a dessert, eliminate the tomato sauce, tomatoes, feta cheese, basil and olives from the recipe. Slather each slice of baguette with butter and a generous amount of jam. Make the custard without the pepper and Parmigiano. Instead, add 1/2 to 2/3 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons vanilla, grated zest of half a lemon, and 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice. Follow the recipe, using cream cheese as flavoring. Top the pudding with several teaspoons of jam. Bake as instructed.

From The Splendid Table®'s How to Eat Weekends by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift (Clarkson Potter, 2011), © copyright 2011 American Public Media.