2 cups -inch-thick slices leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and rinsed
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
12 cups crustless brioche, challah, or country white bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
3 large eggs
3 cups whole milk (see note)
3 cups heavy cream (see note)
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup shredded emmenthaler or swiss cheese
Cook’s note: This recipe was tested twice, the first time using whole milk and heavy cream and the second time with reduced-fat milk and fat-free half-and-half. Results were markedly different, with the second, lower-fat version not tasting as good. Reduced-fat milk and regular half-and-half would be worth a try.
Place a medium saute pan over medium-high heat. Drain excess water from leeks and add to pan. Season with salt and saute until leeks begin to soften, about 5 minutes, then reduce heat to medium-low. Stir in butter. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are very soft, about 30 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While leeks are cooking, spread bread cubes on a baking sheet and bake until dry and pale gold, about 20 minutes, turning pan about halfway through. Transfer to a large bowl, leaving the oven on.
Add leeks, chives, and thyme to the bowl of bread; toss well. In another large bowl, lightly whisk the eggs, then whisk in milk, cream, a generous pinch of salt, pepper to taste, and a pinch of nutmeg.
Sprinkle cup shredded cheese in bottom of a 9- by-13-inch baking pan. Spread of bread mixture in pan, and sprinkle with another cup cheese. Spread remaining bread mixture in pan, and sprinkle with another cup cheese. Pour in enough milk mixture to cover bread, and gently press on bread so milk soaks in. Let rest 15 minutes.
Add remaining milk mixture, letting some bread cubes protrude. Sprinkle with salt and remaining cheese. Bake until pudding is set and top is brown and bubbling, about 1 hours. Serve hot.
Yield: 12 servings as a side dish
Source: Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller (Artisan, 2009)