Although I’m pretty used to baking bread by now, given that I’ve been doing it twice a week for the past nine months or so, occasionally I’ll turn out a loaf that’s just not up to par. The final dough temperature wasn’t warm enough, for instance; the bottom got burned; or, in the case of a particular loaf I made on Thursday, I didn’t dust the proofing basket well enough and half of it stuck to the bottom. Normally I’ll just make bread crumbs out of the most disastrous parts of the bread, but if an entire loaf is a problem, I like to make a panade, which is part bread soup, part bread pudding, and cheap, not to mention addictive—the bread kind of melts into a silky, spoonable bowl of heaven redolent with cheese and caramelized onions, almost like a thickened French onion soup. Any kind of greens would work, but this time I chose to use the rest of the sorrel from the garden, since it usually bolts once the weather starts getting hot.
The offending loaf. Which doesn’t look so bad now that I see a picture of it, but it was too lumpy and misshapen to produce proper slices.
Recipe adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. As below, it makes about 6 generous servings. The leftovers are terrific for both breakfast and lunch.
• 10 oz.-1 lb. stale country-style sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (flour is 32 cents a pound at Costco): 30 cents
• 8 oz. Gruyère or Swiss (Grocery Outlet has Cabot Swiss on sale for $1.99), grated: $1.99
• 4-5 cups chicken stock or vegetable broth: 35 cents
• 3 oz. fresh torn sorrel (or 1 bunch greens such as chard, wilted, leaves sliced) (garden): $0
• 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced: 6 cents
• 1 1/2 lbs. (3-4 medium) onions, thinly sliced (Grocery Outlet has 3 lb. bags of onions for $1.50): 75 cents
• 1/4 cup oil: 12 cents
• Salt: 1 cent
TOTAL: $3.58/6 = 60 cents
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until caramelized, turning down the heat if necessary to keep from burning. This probably took about 25 minutes; add the sliced garlic about halfway through the process.
Preheat the oven to 325 F.
In a large Dutch oven or other heavy, deep, oven-proof pot, start building the layers of the panade.
Start with, as Judy Rodgers says, a “smear” of onions, followed by a loose spread of bread cubes, topped with some sorrel leaves (or wilted greens), and finally with some cheese. Repeat until the pot is full.
Heat the stock or broth until simmering and taste for salt; you want it to be somewhat salty. Pour it around the edges of the panade until it’s about 1 inch below the top layer. Bring the whole thing to a light simmer, adding more water or stock if necessary to maintain the level. (Once it’s simmering, you’ll want to put it in the oven.)
Cut a parchment lid for the pot to keep the cheese from sticking. (For instructions on how to do this, click here and scroll down.) Place it on top of the panade and cover it loosely with foil. Bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Increase heat to 375 F. Remove the parchment lid and foil and bake for 10-15 minutes until top is lightly browned. Scoop out into bowls and serve.