Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tiptoe Into Fall

Every October I find myself in the same seasonal predicament: Cling to summer?  Or tiptoe into fall?  Our temperamental So-Cal weather loves to tease that fall is here then plunge right back into 90° weather, making my predicament even more confusing.  I mean, I love summer!  Who doesn’t?  Warm evenings spent outdoors with loved ones, sun-ripened fruits, and garden fresh veggies; summer is a time of activity and great adventures, a season to live fully, from sun-up to sundown. 

Summer is abundant in qualities that make you feel alive, but if backed into a corner and forced to choose, I’d pick autumn every time.  I anxiously await the first opportunity to build a fire in my mom’s kitchen hearth, to sit chatting while looking out the window at the fog-hugged landscape.  During fall I naturally go inward and get cozy with myself, reminiscing the prior season’s wild adventures, envisioning the year to come.  

Perhaps my love of fall has something to do with being an October baby.  Of course being the Jen that I am, it may simply be the way the food and the weather play together so nicely this time of year.  There’s just something about a rich braised stew when the night is cold and windy, and nothing beats a rainy afternoon spent with a hot bowl of soup and crusty warm bread.

I love the way fall makes idle solitude feel productive, and time spent with community feel transcendent.  And, truly…nothing brings idle and community together like a cozy breakfast on a beautiful fall morning.  Imagine your house is warm, filled with people you love to hang out with for no reason in particular.  The aromas of toasty bread, cheese, eggs, and herbs waft through the house, and mingle with the smell of coffee and the sound of laughter.  Meanwhile the morning is cool and crisp, and the light is clear as crystal. Imagine you look up and realize you’ve been sitting around the table for hours, eating, talking, and refilling coffee, and nothing on your to-do-list has been crossed off.  And yet, you know, this was not time wasted.  This morning was an investment in a life well lived. 


1 1-pound loaf french, or rustic bread, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 pound asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
¼ pound prosciutto torn into 2 inch pieces
9 large eggs
3 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups grated Gruyère cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup chopped fresh marjoram

Several hours before assembling, place bread on 2 large baking sheets and let sit uncovered to dry out.  Cook asparagus in medium pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender; about 3 minutes.  Drain and rinse under cold running water to stop cooking. Drain well and pat dry.

Whisk eggs, milk, salt, and pepper in large bowl. Mix cheeses and herbs in medium bowl. Place half of bread in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Sprinkle with half the asparagus, half the prosciutto, then half of cheese mixture. Pour half of egg mixture over the first layer. Repeat with remaining bread, asparagus, prosciutto, cheese mixture, and egg mixture. Let stand 20 minutes, pressing with spatula to submerge bread pieces.  If assembling the night before serving, cover and refrigerate overnight.  Bring to room temperature before baking.  Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake bread pudding until brown and puffed, about 45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes and serve.