Nutmeg is an interesting spice. The holiday season wouldn’t be complete without it. Apple and pumpkin pies and who doesn’t love egg nog? Nutmeg works on both sweet and savory levels, though most of us think of it as a sweet spice, but today let me introduce you to its savory side. First of all, nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) isn’t a nut, but rather a seed. It . Use freshly grated, if at all possible; a microplane works very well to grate it. Once you use freshly grated, there’ll be no going back to pre-grated.
There is all sorts of such lore that has sprung up around nutmeg. The more interesting:
- Nutmeg was considered an aphrodisiac and if placed in the armpit (I can’t remember if it was left or right) you be extra attractive to the opposite sex.
- In the 17th and 18th century, nutmeg was a food of kings, queens and nobility.
- There is rumor that around this time in England, if you had a few whole nutmeg meats, you could sell them and attain complete financial independence!
- In the sixteenth century, there is record of a monk suggesting that young men carry vials of nutmeg oil to anoint their genitals. Apparently, they would receive staying power that would “hold” them through the entire weekend! The Goddess wonders if perhaps all the “hands on” anointing had anything to do with it.
- It was thought to ward off all sorts of evil spirits and nasties, including boils and broken bones.
- The Dutch traded Manhattan to the British for nutmeg and sugar. That may not have been the deal they thought it was.
This isn’t lore….Nutmeg is in fact a hallucinogen and can be quite dangerous, if too much is ingested…we’re talking a couple of tablespoons, which is way more than what we sprinkle on our egg nog, okay? So don’t throw out the nutmeg just yet!
We can’t talk about nutmeg, without mentioning mace. Mace is the aril, or orange membrane that surrounds the nutmeg meat. While nutmeg is slightly sweeter, mace is a bit more subtle in flavor. Use it as you would nutmeg.
Nutmeg (and mace) go well with the cruciferous vegetables, carrots, cheese, white sauce, sausages, spinach, pumpkin, potatoes (both white and sweet), custards, eggs, fruits, veal and lamb. It is used in Middle Eastern and Greek cooking, in both savory and sweet preparations. The Italians use it in tortellini filling, as well as in meatloaf and with veal.
The Goddess knows all of you use nutmeg or mace in pumpkin pies and other sweet preparations (later in the year, I’ll give you a recipe for a lovely Nutmeg Plum Kuchen), so you don’t need that info. Therefore, we’re going to be using nutmeg in a savory way today. I love bread puddings in general, but this one is savory. It’s a good dish to have in your culinary back pocket. It can be done with seasonal vegetables and works well for a vegetarian main course.
Savory Vegetable Bread Pudding
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 ounces sliced mushrooms
- 1 (6-8 inch) zucchini, diced
- 1/2 cup diced onion or sliced leeks
- 3 cloves garlic, put through a press
- 1 (4-5 inch) carrot, shredded (medium shred)
- 1/3 cup corn (frozen, unthawed is fine)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
- 1 tablespoon bell pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon dry parsley flakes
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Nora or Aleppo chile flakes (optional)
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 cup dry bread cubes
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans (or walnuts)
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup milk or evaporated milk
- 1 1/2 cups half-and-half
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
- 1/3-1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar, Swiss, smoked gouda or cheddar cheese
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Oil a 2 quart oven proof dish; set aside. Sauté the mushrooms in the oil in a medium skillet for about 2 minutes. Add the zucchini and onion; sauté for 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the crushed garlic, and carrot.
In a 2 quart bowl, place the bread cubes, pecans and douse with the wine. Add the chives and all types of pepper flakes. Stir to combine. Add the eggs, milk and heavy cream. Using a fork, beat well. Add the nutmeg and mace; beat again. Add the sautéed vegetables; stir to combine everything. Pour into the prepared dish. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until the center quivers only slightly; sprinkle with the grated cheese and return to the oven for 5 more minutes. Remove from the oven; let stand at least 15 minutes before serving. Can be served hot, warm or at room temperature.
NOTE: You can use almost any combination of vegetables, including sun-dried tomatoes, fennel, eggplant, zucchini, corn, celery, carrots, artichoke hearts, etc. They should be about the same sized pieces and sauté the more dense vegetables before adding; you’ll need about 2 cups total. Feel free to use thyme, basil, parsley, oregano, mint, or whatever herbs you think will work with your vegetable combination. You may assemble this up to 2 hours before baking.
Savory Vegetable Bread Pudding Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2015. All rights reserved.
Don’t let what appears to be a long list of ingredients scare you away from making this. You can use one or two vegetables or five or six. You need about 2 cups total, but 1/2 cup either way won’t change much with the recipe. I usually sauté the vegetables, particularly the watery and/or denser types. You want to remove the water and partially cook the denser vegetables. I add the cheese, I used smoked cheddar here, at the end of cooking, but you can stir it into the mixture before you pour it into the casserole to bake. This is a very flexible and forgiving dish. The Goddess loves forgiving dishes (and people!).
This is a pretty creamy pudding, not too dense. If you want it denser, add another egg or two. You can also add cooked, shredded chicken or bacon or ham. Another flexible option to get you through the week. I have reheated this in the microwave on 30% power. I don’t think it’s as good as when it’s fresh, but it is still very tasty. You can also serve this with a simple tomato sauce and it becomes a vegetarian main course.
One thing to note, the Nora or Aleppo chile flakes, parsley flakes, red bell pepper flakes, red pepper flakes and whole nutmegs, as well as mace, are all available at The Spice Mill in Manchester, CT. You can order them on-line or come into the store and see us.