Savory Sides

I've never met a mushroom I didn't love- but especially morels. This mushroom in particular reminds me of many fun days during my Michigan childhood. When we were young, dad knew exactly where to find morels in the spring- under some apple trees in a V E R Y secret location across the St. Clair River and down a canal. We'd take a boat over and forage to our heart's delight. I've heard that morels change location from year to year, but we never failed to find them in this special orchard. If you've never tasted one, wild morels have a great flavor complexity- meaty, nutty, smokey but it is the earth that gives the depth of flavor to morels. When we arrived home with a basketful Mother used to lightly flour them and fry them in butter. A lunch to dream for... and I have- often. If you're  traveling some back roads in Michigan, you might see morels at a few roadside stands in the spring. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. If you are really lucky, you have an aunt and uncle who live near Charlevoix and they will save you a small basket when they return from foraging!

When my daughter lived in Paris, there was a market near her apartment called marché rue de Buci and in the spring they sold the most enormous morels I've ever laid eyes on. I was in shroom heaven.
Now that I live in Florida, the days of fresh morels are as good as over. If my market ever gets them in the spring (and sometimes they do) they are prohibitive in price. All that's left of morel foraging are wonderful memories...rarely do I ever visit Michigan in the spring.  If you want to splurge you can buy them dried but you'll still have to shell out some bucks. I can't resist so I usually have some dried morels stashed in the pantry; they are ambrosial in a simple omelet. I also love to make this mushroom bread pudding dish for the holidays and while YOU don't need morels in this dish, I do.

You'll find this dish a great main-course option for vegetarians at the Thanksgiving table and I serve it as a side dish with my turkey or chicken- or anything I happen to be serving. It's almost like a stuffing, except a little more custardy. It's also another of my make-ahead dishes: it has to sit overnight in the fridge. Love that! If you want it to taste a little more like stuffing, you can add onion instead of shallots, celery and some sage. Personally I prefer the milder flavor of the shallot so as not to overpower the mushrooms. I usually don't sprinkle parmesan on it either, but had a small piece left in the fridge so I grated it on top. I liked this addition but it's your choice.

For my mushroom assortment I combined reconstituted morels, fresh chanterelles, cremini, shiitake (no stems) and some button mushrooms. (Use the woody stems of the shiitake when you make the mushroom broth)

 In making the broth I used some button mushrooms, some stems of the chanterelles, cremini and shiitake. With most breads I take the crust off but if I'm using brioche bread,  I leave it on. I usually make this in a round glass casserole dish but here I made it in a 9" by 13" by 2" baking dish. Resulting in a lot of crunchy topping!

Mushroom Bread Pudding


1 1/4 cups mushroom stock
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2  cups half and half or whole milk
6  eggs
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup shallots, minced
1 tablespoon garlic, crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
4 heaping cups shiitake, morel or chantarelle mushrooms
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese (optional)
1 loaf challah (or any bread of your choice)


Make the mushroom stock:
Boil some chopped button mushrooms in 3 or 4 cups of water to make a stock- include the stems of the shiitake and any leftover mushrooms. Simmer them for about an hour. Remove the mushrooms and discard. Reduce this stock until it measures 3/4 cup. You may freeze the stock at this point.

When ready to make the dish, add heavy cream to the stock and reduce again until you have 1 1/2 cups total.

Whisk half and half, eggs,  salt to taste and add the stock mixture; set aside. Melt butter, add shallots, garlic and thyme and saute 5 minutes.  If you're adding celery, add it here. Add sliced mushrooms and saute 10 minutes. Season with  salt and pepper to taste. 

If your bread has a firm crust, cut the crusts off. Tear the bread into large pieces and place in a 350° oven until lightly browned.

Line the bottom of baking dish with chunks or slices of challah, put in half the mushroom mixture, then layer more bread, then mushrooms, ending with bread. Pour stock mixture evenly over everything. Press down slightly so that all the bread gets covered with the stock. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan, if using. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Cover with foil and bake in a 350° oven for 2 hours.  Uncover the last 3/4 hour to get a crunchy crust.

Serves about 10 as a side dish.

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