Second acts for bread that’s past its prime


The fight against food waste is not a new one. Stale bread, for instance, has long been precious in bread-eating cultures, where to waste even a slice is a kind of sin. A hard baguette, a loaf that’s too dry to cut, even the leftover heels and crusts: all have potential in the kitchen.

There are lots of traditional recipes meant to use up old bread, which excels at absorbing flavors. There’s panzanella, the Italian bread salad, or fattoush, a Lebanese one made with pita. Spanish migas marries shards of old bread and olive oil. French onion soup, with its cheesy, soup-soaked toast, is among the more well-known strategies.

A less-famous dish, but no less praiseworthy, is the panade.

Imagine a sturdier onion soup or a soupier lasagna, made with bread instead of pasta, layered with cheese and vegetables, moistened with broth, and baked. Inside, it’s delightfully soggy, while the top is golden, crisp and cheesy. A panade satisfies the way a really good grilled cheese sandwich does, or well-baked macaroni and cheese.

This panade is essentially a savory bread pudding interspersed with layers of caramelized onions, winter squash and grated alpine cheese, such as Gruyère or Comté. The onions are the most important part. It’s essential that they be slowly browned and well seasoned, so they add their flavor to the cooking liquid. You could also use another vegetable instead of squash, like stewed tomatoes or cooked leafy greens or sautéed mushrooms.

To build this humble dish, you need slices from a sturdy hearth-baked loaf. A large, European-style sourdough whole-wheat bread, made with a wild yeast (levain) starter, is ideal. You can make a panade from day-old slices, but older slices that are completely dried out work fine, too.

If you don’t have stale bread on hand, you can easily “make” it. Keep your sliced bread in a cloth or paper bag, and let it dry slowly. As long as it can breathe, it will not mold. It will be there when you need some homemade breadcrumbs or croutons.

Water is a fine choice, with so many onions and herbs in the dish, but a quickly made vegetable broth will add another dimension of flavor. Simmer six cups water with two cups (combined) chopped leeks, onions and celery. Toss in a bay leaf or a thyme sprig and some squash peelings and cook for 30 minutes. Good chicken or beef broth are also options.

You might consider a panade as a substitute for bread stuffing and serve it alongside a roasted holiday bird. On other cool days, it shines as a hearty, warming meatless meal, served along with a crisp winter salad and sent to the table in all its molten glory.

— RECIPE:Butternut Squash Panade

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 medium onions, thinly sliced (about 4 cups)

Salt and pepper

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage

12 ounces sliced stale country bread (if not quite stale, toast lightly and let cool before using)

1 pound butternut or other winter squash, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick

8 ounces Gruyère or Comté cheese, grated

4 cups water or broth, more as needed

Preparation:

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a deep 9-by-13-inch baking dish and set aside.

2. In a large skillet, heat oil until sizzling over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 8 minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper. Continue cooking until onions are nicely browned, about 5 minutes more. Stir in garlic, thyme and sage, then turn off heat.

3. Assemble the panade: Line bottom of baking dish with half the bread slices. Add a layer of cooked onion, then a layer of squash. Season squash with salt and pepper. Finish with a layer of grated cheese. Top with remaining bread slices.

4. Add water or broth and press down on the top layer of bread to make sure the casserole is evenly saturated. Add more if needed to soak the top layer. It should be damp but not swimming in liquid.

5. Cover with foil, place on a sheet pan and bake, covered, for 45 minutes, until squash is tender. Uncover and bake 15 minutes more, until browned and bubbling on top. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Cooking and Recipes

7 Instagram-worthy brunch spots in Atlanta
7 Instagram-worthy brunch spots in Atlanta

Undoubtedly, many Atlantans' (and those visiting) include brunch in their scheduling for the weekend. Whether with friends, after church or as a hair of the dog treatment - brunch can accommodate all needs. But brunch isn't only about the food these days, it's about the full experience: how you dress, the atmosphere, the cutesy beverages and most of...
The best recipes of 2017 that wowed us over and over
The best recipes of 2017 that wowed us over and over

It was a year of plant foods, bowl foods and whole foods.   With whole foods that meant preparing foods as simple as possible using foods with very few ingredients, it also meant Whole Foods Market chain being gobbled up by Amazon.   Not only did Amazon stun the grocery world by buying Whole Foods Market, the grocery store industry...
Steamed fish, swimming in flavor
Steamed fish, swimming in flavor

There are many ways to approach a pescatarian dinner. The next time you buy a piece of fish for dinner, instead of pan-frying, poaching or broiling, why not consider steaming? It’s fast, easy and makes a remarkably satisfying light meal. Chinese cooks have long been experts at steaming fish — especially whole fish, which may seem daunting...
Southern dumplings are the fluffy clouds of comfort food
Southern dumplings are the fluffy clouds of comfort food

A simmering pot of fragrant stew earns top honors when it comes to comfort food, but the comfort doubles when it is topped with fluffy dumplings. They are the bonus prize in each bowlful - the unexpected delight that makes the meal special enough to feel restorative. Such a dish sure hits the spot on a winter evening, just right for a cozy family supper...
Popular school fundraiser is just 'junk-food marketing to kids,' experts say
Popular school fundraiser is just 'junk-food marketing to kids,' experts say

For 43 years, schoolkids and their parents have clipped the labels from cookie bags and cracker boxes as part of a popular rewards program called Labels for Education. Through this and similar programs - think Tyson's Project A+ or General Mills' Box Tops for Education - schools get cash and supplies in exchange for clipped labels from participating...
More Stories