Month: November 2017

“Very” Rustic Bread Pudding—Torta Di Pane

Bread was generally not served with most meals in my home when I was growing up, although I can still hear my grandfather saying, as we sat around the large family dining table during the holidays, “bread is the staff of life,” or something close to that.

It wasn’t until much later in my early adult life that I developed an appreciation for a good loaf of artisan baked bread instead of the mass-produced prepackaged breads that line the grocery store shelves. I often go out of my way to find well-made breads, developing sources both locally and even sometimes ordering bread from online bake shops. From my perspective, the better the bread, the better the dish!

Bread should be eaten within the first couple of days after purchasing, or can be divided, if the loaf is large enough, and frozen so you can enjoy it over time. With this in mind, when the remainder of a loaf reaches a point where it begins to dry out and becomes a little harder I repurpose and freeze it for later use in dishes such as the recipe to follow. I also grind it for breadcrumbs, use it in soups, such as ribolitta or pappa al pomodoro, for croutons in a salad or soup, or the main ingredient in that holiday stuffing. Like the man said—“staff of life.”

Instead of cutting the leftover bread into perfect little squares, I tear it into irregular, ragged shaped pieces. Some edges get charred when lightly toasted, which adds more flavor to a dish. The irregular shapes and sizes allow for some pieces to get crisper than others, making the bread more interesting. And, even if a recipe calls for removing the crust, I never do, because the crust adds another dimension to the overall flavor and texture of the dish when bread is added.

Around this time of the year, as we approach the holidays when family and friends gather together for meals large and small, I find I always have a good stash of torn, repurposed bread pieces in my freezer. Over the years I have prepared a large roasting pan filled with a savory bread pudding that was always a more interesting substitute for a holiday stuffing or a starchy side dish. But I seem to recall that perhaps only once did I ever prepare a bread pudding as a dessert, and it seems so long ago that I don’t even remember exactly what all of the ingredients were that I used. So the motivation behind this post was to revisit that, and develop a recipe where I could use all the stashed bread in a dessert.

Reading through my cookbooks I gathered ideas, ingredient combinations, and approaches leading to the recipe I am sharing with you in this post. Fundamentally, I wanted the recipe to be easy to prepare and assemble, using mainly ingredients found in most home pantries, not too sweet, be “very” rustic when finished, and fun for the kids to help with.


“Very” Rustic Bread Pudding

Ingredients (serves 8 to 10)

12 generous cups bread pieces

5 large apples, peeled, quartered, cored, quarters halved then thinly sliced across into smaller pieces. Yellow Delicious apples were used in this recipe, although Honey Crisp, Granny Smith, or Fuji would all be fine substitutes.

Zest and juice of 1 large lemon

12 tablespoons sweet butter + more for the baking pan + topping

2 whole cinnamon sticks

3 generous tablespoons brown sugar

¼ cup grappa, Nonino grappa il merlot was used in this recipe, although any other grappa, vodka, or limoncello would work just as well.

¼ cup finely chopped candied orange rinds (optional)

1 cup walnuts, or pecans, or a mix of both, lightly toasted and rough chopped

1 teaspoon vanilla beans

4 large eggs

3½ cups Half & Half



Generously butter and lightly flour a 9 x 13 baking pan and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 365 degrees.

Finely zest the lemon and set aside. Juice the lemon into a large work bowl along with the apple pieces prepared as previously described. Using your hands, toss and coat the apples with the lemon juice. Sprinkle the brown sugar over, then toss and coat the apples again.

In a large sauté pan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter over moderate heat. When the butter sizzles and begins to lightly brown, add the apples, cinnamon sticks, and grappa, stirring to coat and combine. Raise the heat and cook the apples, stirring often, until most all the grappa has cooked off and the apples are lightly caramelized.

Apple sauté

Discard the cinnamon sticks and set the pan aside to cool.

In a small saucepan, melt 6 tablespoons of butter and set aside.

Using the same work bowl, add the torn bread pieces, the lemon zest, and the finely chopped candied orange rind, if using, and pour the 6 tablespoons of melted butter over. Mix to thoroughly distribute the zest and rind. Add the cooled apples along with the chopped nuts and mix again.

Dry mix

Whisk the eggs, Half & Half, and vanilla beans until combined, then pour the custard over the bread and apples, mixing again so that the bread is thoroughly coated and begins to absorb the liquid.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan and distribute evenly. If the bread appears to be a little dry, add another ½ cup or so of the Half & Half, pouring it around evenly.

Dust the top with 2 generous tablespoons of sugar, and dot with 3 tablespoons of butter cut into ¼-inch-square pieces.

Ready for baking

Place the baking pan on the center shelf of the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the pudding is set and some of the bread has some charred edges.


Allow the pudding to rest and cool on a rack before cutting and serving. Best served warm and accompanied by a spoonful of whipped ricotta, crème fraiche, or Greek yogurt, along with a spoonful of your favorite jam or preserve. I plan to try one of my homemade preserves, either green tomato and lemon marmalade, blood orange marmalade, or Italian plum jam. A rich apple butter might be a nice option as well.


This is a rustic dessert to try for the holidays, making good use of what you have on hand in the pantry and without a lot of fuss. Do give this recipe a try.

Be well. Eat Well.


Good food doesn’t have to be complicated. One of the best things about cooking is that it is an on-going learning experience.









Fall Lentil Stew

Even though the official first day of fall was in late September, and daylight saving time ended on November 5, Mother Nature is still having a hard time letting go! The weather here has been unseasonably warm—not complaining—and although it doesn’t feel like the right time yet to prepare heartier fare, Mother Nature weighs in again because the ingredients available in the markets speak to fall and winter dishes. Because fall is one of my favorite seasons for cooking and dining, I am OK with that seasonal ingredient switch.

It has been a little too long since I last posted something new because we have been a little preoccupied with the newest addition to our family—Allie, a four-month-old Portuguese Water Dog pup. Not an easy task to prep, cook, photograph, and then quietly sit down and enjoy a leisurely meal and a good bottle of wine when a young pup wants to help with every step along the way!


Things are settling down somewhat now, so I am taking advantage of the lull to explore some cooking with fall and winter dishes in mind.

The dish featured in this post is one I have been preparing for years, long before blogs were a way of connecting with like-minded people on subjects of interest. The dish takes little time to assemble, is easy to prepare, uses ingredients that for the most part are pantry items, will satisfy most vegetarians, and is a great source of protein, minerals, and fiber.

First, a few quick thoughts about lentils: It has been written that lentils are the world’s oldest cultivated legumes, dating as far back as 7000 BC. Cultivated in Asia and from the region we now know as Syria, they then migrated throughout the countries around the Mediterranean rim to become an integral part of the culture and cuisine.

Lentils can be sourced in a variety of colors: black, green, brown, red/orange, or yellow. They are one of the easiest beans to digest, cook quickly because they don’t require presoaking like other dried bean varieties often do, and they add a nutty, earthy flavor to the dishes in which they are used.

Over the years, I have used many different types of lentils when making this dish—for example, the black Beluga, the French green, the French Puy (lentilles du Puy), common brown known as the brewer lentil, and the Castelluccio lentils from Umbria Italy.

In this recipe I used the Castelluccio lentils, but had equally good results in the past using the Beluga or the Puy, since all three varieties hold their shape and texture better than some of the other varieties which tend to become softer, almost puree-like once completely cooked.

Lentils are often cooked with pork in Italy. One example is the dish often served on New Year’s Eve featuring the large pork sausage, cotechino. The folklore surrounding this dish is that for some reason, serving lentils on the Eve will bring money to the home in the coming year. That said, I have often cooked sausage right in the stew, either sweet Italian fennel sausage, Spanish chorizo, or the spicy lamb sausage from North Africa, merguez, where the spices in the sausage impart their individual unique flavoring to the broth. With this recipe, I prepared the sausage separately, and served it as an accompaniment as would be the tradition when serving the cotechino. For this recipe I used Spanish chorizo.


Fall Lentil Stew

Ingredients (serves two or more)

1¾ cups lentils

2 bunches spinach, thoroughly washed, large stems removed


8 cups liquid, either stock, water, or combination of both (water used in this recipe)

2 medium onions, chopped

2 large carrots, cut into wide rings

1 bulb garlic, set aside 7 whole cloves, use remainder for soffritto

Soffritto: 8 to 10 parsley sprigs both leaves and stems, 1 large celery stalk, stalks from one large fennel blub; mince using a food processor

Salt, pepper, red chili flakes

2 to 4 sausage links, pan seared or roasted and then sliced to serve

Mise en place

Method (approximately 30 minutes cooking time)

Heat 4 or 5 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat in a heavy-bottomed stockpot until hot but not smoking. Drop a few pieces of chopped onion into the pot and once they sizzle add all the chopped onion into the oil, sprinkle salt and pepper over, and stir to combine and coat. Sauté the onion until it begins to soften and lightly color.

Soup base sauté

Add the soffritto, stirring to combine with the onion, season with a little more salt and pepper, then continue stirring until you begin to smell the garlic in the sauté. If the mixture is sticking to the bottom of the pot, lower the heat slightly and deglaze with a small amount of the water or stock you are using.

Add the carrots and the whole garlic cloves, again stir and combine into the sauté. Add the spinach, stirring to thoroughly mix into the other sauté ingredients, again lightly sprinkle with salt, pepper, and red chili flakes (if using), then pour the 8 cups of stock or water over. Raise the heat to bring the liquid to a gentle boil, then add the lentils, mixing into the other ingredients.

Once the liquid begins to gently boil again, lower the heat and simmer for another 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. The stew is ready when the carrots are just fork tender and the lentils are soft but not mushy, more al dente like properly cooked pasta.

Stew ingredients cooked together

The dish can be served on its own, or accompanied by the sausage as I did with the chorizo, along with some grilled or toasted bread.

This lentil stew is an easy to prepare, hearty, and healthy dish to segue from the warm weather cooking of summer to the more robust cooking of the fall season leading into winter.


If you make the dish I’d like to know what lentils you decide to use!

Eat well. Be well.


Whenever possible, life should be a pattern of experiences to savor, rather than endure.