Having reached age 30, it’s not often that I find a food so amazingly delicious that it forces me to wonder why I’ve never had it before. Sure, I’ll sometimes have new variations on pasta or risotto or veggies that are so good they’re worth remembering. But rarely do I find a dish that is both unlike anything I’ve had before and so, so scrumptious that I want to eat all five servings of it in one sitting. (Not that I did that, but the main thing stopping me was looking forward to having it as leftovers today. That and feeding my husband, who seemed to want some dinner as well.)
This dish in question is panade, which first appeared on my radar last week when I came across a reference to a recipe Orangette had posted a couple of years ago. Knowing very little about panade, I looked through Orangette’s archives, only to stumble upon what would best be described as a love story to soggy bread and cheese. I think Orangette’s enthusiasm for this dish is best conveyed in her own posting which includes phrases such as “fork-in-air ecstasy” and an assertion that if she’s remembered for one thing, it should be her “unflagging advocacy of panade.” But suffice to say here that after reading her recipe, the dish quickly moved to the top of my to-make list.
And truly, having made it last night, I can’t say enough good things about it. Sure, it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing dish, so if plating is your priority, it’s not for you. Panade is rustic, messy, hearty food…and though it takes a while to blend all of the flavors in the oven, it’s really quite simple to make, with very few ingredients. Imagine layers of sauteed onions, gruyere, red chard, and broth-soaked cubes of artisinal bread. Pour hot broth over top and after about 90 minutes in the oven, the most amazingly soft, luscious, gooey mixture emerges. By then the cheese and the bread have so fused that it’s impossible to differentiate between the two. The sweetness of the onions has permeated through all of the layers. And the chard has become so soft that it practically falls apart in your mouth. Just thinking about it again makes me want to run to the fridge and dig in. For anyone who likes bread and cheese (and if you don’t, what’s wrong with you?!) I would wholeheartedly recommend making this dish immediately, while the weather is still cold enough to truly enjoy it. Many, many thanks to Orangette for sharing this amazing recipe which was adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook.
I may have changed amounts a little from the recipe below…I always put in a little less olive oil than instructed, for instance. I also used about 1 1/4 lbs of onion and 2 bunchs of chard (no idea how much they weighed). I’d imagine that you could use a little more water and less broth depending on how salty your broth is.
And finally, I can imagine all sorts of great variations on this…switching up the cheese, using spinach instead of chard, etc…then again, the basic recipe is so wonderful that perhaps there’s no need to mess with perfection.
The Zuni Cafe’s Chard, Onion, and Gruyere Panade (serves 5 as a main dish, 6-8 as a side)
1 ½ lbs yellow onions, preferably a sweet variety, thinly sliced
About ½ cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, slivered
1 lb red Swiss chard, thick ribs removed, cut into 1-inch-wide ribbons
10 ounces day-old chewy artisan bread, cut into rough 1-inch cubes
2 cups good-quality chicken broth
About 2 loosely packed cups good-quality Swiss gruyère
1. To prepare the onions:
Place the onions in a large, deep saucepan or Dutch oven, then drizzle and toss with about ¼ cup olive oil. Set over medium-high heat, and stirring occasionally, cook until the bottom layer of onions is golden on the edges, about 3 minutes. Stir, and repeat. Once the second layer of onions has colored, reduce the heat to low, and stir in the garlic and a few pinches of salt. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender but not mushy, another 20 minutes or so. If at any point the onions look as though they’re drying out, cover the pan to trap in moisture. Preheat the oven to 325.
2. To prepare the chard:
Place handfuls of chard in a large sauté pan or skillet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with water and a few pinches of salt. Set the pan over medium heat until the bottom layer of leaves begins to cook; then reduce the heat and stir and fold the leaves until they are just wilted, 2-4 minutes. The leaves should be bright green. Set aside.
3. To prepare the bread:
Using your hands, toss the cubed bread with 2 Tbs olive oil, ¼ cup of the broth, and a few pinches of salt.
4. To build the panade:
Using a flameproof 2-quart soufflé dish or deep, enameled cast-iron pan, assemble the panade in layers. Start with a good smear of onions, followed by a loose scattering of bread cubes, a thin layer of onions, a blanked of chard, and a handful of cheese. Repeat, continuing until all ingredients are incorporated and the dish is full. Aim for 2 to 3 layers of each component, but make sure that the top is a mosaic of all the ingredients. Don’t worry if the layers are a bit uneven, or if you have to pack them down a bit—this is meant to be rustic.
Bring the remaining 1 ¾ cups broth and 2 cups water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Pour the warm liquid slowly, in doses, over the assembled panade, drizzling it down the sides of the dish. The liquid should come up nearly to the top of the layered ingredients.
Set the dish over low heat on the stovetop, and bring its liquid to a simmer, looking for bubbles around the edges. Cover the top of the dish with parchment paper, then very loosely cover the top again with aluminum foil. Place the panade on a baking sheet to catch drips, slide it into the oven, and bake it until hot and bubbly, about 1 to 1 ½ hours. The top should be pale golden and a bit darker on the edges.
Uncover the panade, raise the oven temperature to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and leave until for another 10-20 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Remove it from the oven, allow it to settle for a minute or two, and then serve.