A great vegetarian main course, and also good alongside roast chicken. The turnips add a nice, peppery touch, but you can leave them out to save work, if you prefer. Serves four.
400g loaf white sourdough
800ml full-fat milk
250ml double cream
2 rosemary stalks, plus 1½ tsp chopped rosemary leaves
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
8 medium eggs
Salt and white pepper
2 medium turnips, peeled and cut into 1cm slices
90g parmesan, or vegetarian substitute, grated
20g chives, finely chopped
Olive oil, to finish
Cut the bread into 2cm-thick slices, spread on a tray and leave overnight to dry; alternatively, dry in an 80C oven for half an hour, turning once.
Put the milk, cream, rosemary stalks, onion and nutmeg in a medium saucepan, bring to a gentle simmer, remove from the heat and leave to cool. Break the eggs into a bowl. Once the milk mix is tepid, strain, discard the onion and rosemary, and pour over the eggs, whisking as you go, until you have a smooth custard. Whisk in half a teaspoon of salt and a quarter-teaspoon of white pepper.
Blanch the turnip for two minutes, strain, refresh and dry. Layer the turnip slices over the base of a 22cm x 29cm ovenproof dish.
Mix the ricotta, parmesan, chopped rosemary and chives, and spread over one side of each bread slice. Lay the slices cheese-side up in the dish, standing them up on an angle and overlapping. Spoon custard over the bread just to cover, and gently press down the bread to immerse. Leave to sit for an hour to an hour and a half, gently pressing the bread down from time to time and adding more custard – you may have some left over, depending on how much your bread absorbs.
Half an hour before you are ready to bake, heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Cover the pudding with foil, bake for 20 minutes, remove the foil and continue cooking for 25-35 minutes, until golden-brown and crusty. Poke a knife into the centre and gently press down – if no cream surfaces, it’s ready. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before brushing the top with oil and serving.