Bread Pudding with Leeks, Bacon, Mushrooms, and Artichoke Hearts

Bread Pudding: most hear those words and think DESSERT! No folks, Bread Pudding can also be savory. A myriad of ingredients can make this side dish a star in its own right.

Savory Bread Pudding with Caramelized Leeks, Smoked Bacon, Mushrooms, and Fontina Cheese

8 C Bread - (day old) cut into 1" cubes
3 leeks, white part only, cleaned, sliced into 1/2" chunks
6 slices smoked bacon, thick sliced, cut into 1/4" chunks
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, (about 12-14), stemmed and cubed into small pieces
1 - 9oz can artichoke hearts, drained (frozen can be substituted)
4 large eggs
2 C heavy cream
1 C chicken broth (chicken stock, if you have it!)
2 C Fontina cheese, shredded
Olive oil, butter, kosher salt, and black pepper

* Preheat oven to 350F
* prepare a 9 x 13 x 2 roasting pan by coating with a little olive oil all over (to prevent sticking)
* heat a saute pan over medium heat with about 3T butter; add leeks and cook for about 5 minutes until soft and slightly caramelized; remove from pan and set aside
* to the same pan, add the bacon; allow the bacon to cook until done; remove with a slotted spoon and set aside(save the bacon oil in the pan)
* add the cubed mushrooms to the bacon fat and cook until slightly browned, about 7 minutes; remove from pan and set aside
* in a large bowl, combine the cooked leeks, bacon, mushrooms, and artichoke hearts
* in another bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, and chicken broth; add this to the bread mixture and fold together (the bread needs to soak up the mixture, so fold once and then come back in 5 minutes and mix again); mix in half of the Fontina cheese to the bread mixture; season with salt and pepper
* pour bread mixture into prepared pan; spread remaining shredded cheese on top; place in oven and cook for 30 minutes. Sides should be brown and top of bread pudding should be slightly toasted and bubbling - if needed, cook for another 10 minutes if middle is not cooked through
* allow to slightly cool and serve

** uncooked mixture can be made at least 1 day in advance before baking