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GOOD COOKING / ABBY MANDEL

Getting a Jump on Brunch

April 08, 1998|ABBY MANDEL

Fresh herbs, lettuces, asparagus, rhubarb and strawberries are the elements of spring that make this brunch menu a great way to celebrate the season with friends and family.

The puffy herbed bread pudding and warm fruit compote can be made ahead and take little attention from the cook at serving time. The salad, of course, must be put together at the last minute, but all of the ingredients can be prepared in advance. Expand the menu with ham, smoked salmon or turkey, a cheese board and coffee cakes.

HERBED BREAD PUDDING

Heating the milk with the onion and herbs enhances the flavor in this bread pudding and ensures a nice puff as it bakes. Day-old challah bread can be substituted for the brioche.

1 tablespoon butter, plus extra for greasing pan

1 1/2 cups chopped sweet onions

1/3 cup minced fresh herbs, such as tarragon, thyme, chives and parsley

2 cups milk

3/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

8 eggs

1 (1 1/2) pound brioche loaf, crusts trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch dice, about 6 cups

1/2 pound thinly sliced Muenster or Jack cheese

4 slices bacon, preferably applewood-smoked, browned and roughly crumbled

Heat butter in 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add onion and herbs and cook, stirring often, until onions are softened, about 4 minutes. Add milk, salt and pepper to taste and bring to boil over medium heat.

Whisk eggs in large bowl until blended. Slowly whisk in hot milk mixture. Stir in diced brioche. Let rest at room temperature until most, but not all, liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes.

Spread half of bread mixture in shallow, greased 13x9-inch baking dish. Layer half of cheese slices over bread mixture. Sprinkle with half of bacon. Repeat layers of bread, cheese and bacon. (Recipe can be made to this point 1 hour ahead and kept at room temperature.)

Bake at 325 degrees until set in center, browned and puffy, about 40 minutes. Serve hot.

6 to 8 servings. Each of 8 servings:

443 calories; 849 mg sodium; 254 mg cholesterol; 23 grams fat; 37 grams carbohydrates; 22 grams protein; 0.53 gram fiber.

GREEN SALAD WITH ASPARAGUS AND TOASTED PINE NUTS, CITRUS BASIL VINAIGRETTE

VINAIGRETTE

1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves

2/3 cup orange juice

1/4 cup lemon juice

6 tablespoons light mayonnaise

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

SALAD

Salt

1 pound slender asparagus, ends trimmed

9 cups mixed baby greens and arugula, stems trimmed

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

1 small navel orange, cut into 6 slices

VINAIGRETTE

Mince basil leaves in food processor. Add orange juice, lemon juice, mayonnaise, olive and vegetable oils, salt and pepper to taste and process until well mixed. (The vinaigrette may be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before using.)

SALAD

Bring 1 1/2 inches salted water to boil in large skillet. Add asparagus and boil until tender but not mushy, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water until cold. Blot dry with cloth towel. (Asparagus may be cooked 1 day ahead and refrigerated. Let rest at room temperature 30 minutes before serving.) Toss with 1/3 vinaigrette.

Toss greens and arugula with small amount vinaigrette in large bowl. Divide evenly among 6 chilled plates. Arrange asparagus on each plate and drizzle with remaining vinaigrette. Sprinkle with pine nuts and garnish each plate with 1 orange slice. Serve immediately.

6 servings. Each serving:

269 calories; 301 mg sodium; 10 mg cholesterol; 23 grams fat; 15 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 1.31 grams fiber.

WARM SPRING FRUIT COMPOTE

2 (5 1/2-ounce) cans apricot nectar

2/3 cup dried cherries

4 large stalks rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch dice, about 4 cups

1/2 to 2/3 cup sugar

4 cups (1/2-inch-diced) peeled pears

1 tablespoon butter

4 cups sliced strawberries

Simmer nectar and cherries in 2-quart nonaluminum saucepan over medium-high heat 3 minutes. Add rhubarb and 1/2 cup sugar and cook 2 minutes. Add pears and cook, stirring often, until pears are tender but still intact, about 2 minutes. Stir in butter until melted.

Remove from heat and stir in strawberries. Taste for sweetness and add remaining sugar if desired. (Compote may be made 1 day ahead and gently reheated until just warmed through). Serve warm.

6 servings. Each serving:

264 calories; 25 mg sodium; 5 mg cholesterol; 3 grams fat; 62 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 2.98 grams fiber.

Chef's Tip

To toast pine nuts, spread on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

Izabellam plate from Ci, Beverly Center.

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