Someday I would like to meet Judy Rodgers. If I could cook my way through her Zuni Cafe Cookbook I think I would die a happy woman. This is one of the recipes in that book that I have been planning to make for ever. Let me tell you that it is a great tragedy—one of the great tragedies of my life, perhaps—that I only just got around to it now. This panade (which, for lack of a better description is essentially a savory bread pudding) is the taste of fall, but if you could caramelize it and serve it steaming hot, with Swiss chard. That Swiss chard is one of the best things about the panade: it takes a gaudy and excessive dish (bread! olive oil! fontina!) and gives it a fig leaf of virtue.
I really took a lot of liberties with Judy’s recipe. I did not fry the bread or toast it in olive oil before making the casserole. I was just too pressed for time, and I guess I was thinking of my grandmother’s stuffing, which is made of torn, stale bread (which, if stale enough is almost like toasted bread, isn’t it?). And guess what? This still came out the most delicious and lush dish you could imagine. However, if you have the time, try cutting the bread into slices and frying it in olive oil first. There is no way that this would make the panade anything but more delicious.
Also, did you catch the fact that this recipe uses up stale bread? I am plagued—plagued!—by odds and ends of stale bread around the kitchen. This is a great way to use it up. And if we make stuffing like my grandmother does, we can probably toss bits of stale bread into a sealed bag in the freezer and when we have collected enough, we could thaw it in the oven and then use it in this dish. (Not that I am already busily hoarding odds and ends of bread to make this again. I would never do that. That would be slightly obsessive, which of course I would never be.)
Chard + onion panade
Adapted from Zuni Cafe Cookbook
- stale ciabatta, cut or torn into 1″ to 2″ chunks, enough to fill the pan you are baking in to slightly heaping, slightly packed
- 1/3 cup or so of olive oil
- 2 yellow onions, sliced thinly
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 bunch Swiss chard, about 10 ounces, washed and cut into a fine chiffonade
- 2 teaspoons fresh tarragon, minced
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, heating in a small pan on the stove
- 1/4 pound fontina cheese, finely chopped or shredded
- coarse salt
- freshly ground pepper
1. Select a heavy pan to bake in. I used a 2-quart round French oven from Le Creuset. Pile the stale ciabatta into the pan and fill it, push it down, add more bread until it is just heaping. Place the bread to the side in a large bowl.
2. Place the pan on the stove over medium heat. Add a few tablespoons of the olive oil and the onions. Saute until they turn a deep golden color, adding a pinch or two of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Set the onion mixture aside. (I put it in the lid of the pan, which was balancing on its knob on the counter.)
3. Drizzle olive oil and add hot stock to the stale bread until it is moistened. Mix it aggressively with your hands and season with salt and pepper. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
4. Return the pan to the heat, add a few more tablespoons of olive oil and the Swiss chard. Add a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Saute until wilted and add to the onions. Add the tarragon to the onion-chard mixture.
5. Add a bit more olive oil to the pan off the heat and wipe it around the pan to grease it. Add a handful of the onion-chard mixture to the pan, evenly across the bottom, then 1/3 of the moistened bread, then about 1/3 of the cheese. Add more onion-chard mixture, then another 1/3 of the bread and the cheese. Add a final layer of each component, ending with the cheese. Pour the rest of the stock into the pan, enough to come somewhere between halfway up the side of the pan to just below the top layer of bread.
6. Add the lid to the top of the pan, or a sheet of foil. Pop it into the oven. Bake 35-45 minutes. Remove lid or foil and bake 15 minutes more to brown the top. Let the panade rest 15 minutes before serving.