It was an odd combination.
I found myself eating a piece of thick white bread, toasted, spread with pesto and a few slices of tomato and then topped with bread sauce. It was one of those quick-fix-what-do-I-have-in-my-fridge kind of things. Don’t get me wrong, it was tasty, just unusual. You could almost class it as a sandwich of sorts, given that it did essentially involve two slices of bread on either side of the pesto-tomato filling, it’s just that one of the bread halves was appearing in sauce form and bringing with it that creamy, oniony Christmas dinner taste.
For those of you not familiar with bread sauce, let me tell you that Christmas dinner (to me at least) is not Christmas dinner without it. Traditional bread sauce – milk-based, thickened with breadcrumbs and usually flavoured with onion and cloves – is actually a centuries-old British creation. It’s a classic accompaniment to festive roast poultry on this side of the Atlantic, but clearly I’d try it with just about anything (witness above).
This particular version comes from a leaflet on Christmas cooking by Paula Daly, stashed at the back of one of Ma’s cookery books. I also experimented with a gluten-free version for she-who-is-still-avoiding-gluten.
- 1 fairly large onion
- 8-10 cloves
- 1 bayleaf
- 6 peppercorns
- 575ml milk
- 125g soft white breadcrumbs (or up to 200g gluten-free breadcrumbs)
- 50g unsalted butter or margarine
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2-3 tblsps cream
- Peel the onion and cut in half. Stud each half with the cloves.
- Place the onion, bayleaf, peppercorns and milk in a saucepan. Bring slowly to simmering point and then turn off the heat.
- Cover and infuse for an hour.
- Strain the infused milk and add the breadcrumbs. Leave for about 15 minutes in a warm place. The breadcrumbs will plump up as they absorb the liquid.
With the gluten-free version, I found that the gluten-free breadcrumbs did not plump up as much as the regular kind, so I added more in order to get a nice thick consistency. You may want to experiment with amounts here, depending on the kind of gluten-free breadcrumbs you have.
- Add the butter or margarine. Mix to combine, then season with salt and pepper.
- Stir in the cream just before serving.