A handful of years ago, one of you readers paid this column a great compliment by saying that the recipes here call for ingredients that “normal” people have in their kitchens. My kitchen is probably a “normal” Yankee kitchen with a few specialty ingredients thrown in so I can make the occasional Indian or Thai dish.
So when I read a recipe for Mushroom Bread Pudding from Ina Garten, the cookbook author and television cook known as the Barefoot Contessa, my substitutions popped up automatically for her various sophisticated ingredients: bacon for pancetta, cheddar for Gruyere, sturdy white bread for rustic loaf, bouillon for homemade chicken broth, plain old white mushrooms for cremini. I’m certain her recipe that inspired my version is perfectly wonderful, but the one that follows is really delicious, too.
Not everyone has leeks on hand, but I grow them each summer and so the very last of the crop, wrapped in newspaper and shelved in my cool, moist cellar needed to be eaten soon.
Not everyone will have dry sherry on hand, but ever since I learned how divine a pea soup was with a hefty shot of sherry in it, I keep it around. (Plus it is terrific late in the afternoon, straight out of the glass, next to a crackling fire with shortbread to nibble on and a good friend to share it with.)
The Garten recipe called for fresh parsley, but I didn’t have it, so I left it out, though you might have some in a pot on the window sill or fresh from the store. I used dried tarragon in place of the fresh. The problem with buying fresh herbs in those little plastic boxes is that I almost never use it all up before it gets all mushy and spoiled, so in summer I have fresh herbs out of the garden, and sometimes frozen until they are used up, then dried if I have them at all. No doubt one of you has a highly organized and foolproof method of using every sprig of fresh-bought herb but, alas, not me.