Serves 4 to 6 as an entrée, 6 to 8 as a side dish
This recipe uses about 10 cups of cubed bread, however much it takes to half fill your Dutch oven. The bread will expand as the panade bakes, so take care not to overfill the pot.
This recipe will work with day-old, stale or months-old, rock hard bread cubes. (If you are saving up old bread to use in panade, be sure to cube it while still pliable.)
The age of the bread will determine the total amount of water needed.
For a vegetarian version, omit the anchovies and replace the stock with more water.
Much of the seasoning comes from the cheeses here, so don’t be tempted to add more salt.
Classic versions of panade are made with fillings such as onions and Gruyère cheese (4-5 large onions, thinly sliced and ~6 ounces of grated Gruyère), for a “semi-solid” French onion soup, or a mixture of onions (~2 large), Swiss chard (~1 pound, ribs removed, cut into 1/2-inch ribbons), and Gruyère.
You can also bake panades in a wider, shallower vessel, like a 9x13-inch casserole dish, if desired, which will increase the amount of crusty top (and reduce the amount of custardy center).
2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled plum tomatoes
8 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 ounce Pecorino cheese, finely grated
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
4 anchovies, mashed to a paste with a fork (optional)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 pinch red pepper flakes
3 medium onions, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
10 to 12 cups stale crusty bread, cut or torn into 1 to 2-inch rough cubes
1 quart chicken stock (optional)
1 to 3 quarts water
shredded fresh basil
Set oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 275˚F. Drain tomatoes in colander set over bowl (save tomato juices). Using kitchen shears or hands, cut or tear tomatoes into rough 1-inch pieces. Set aside. Place cheeses in second bowl and toss to combine.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, anchovies, oregano, and red pepper flakes in a large, heavy Dutch oven over medium heat until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and just beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic and tomatoes, and cook until most liquid has evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove pot from heat and scoop out half of tomato-onion mixture into a bowl.
Add half of bread pieces and half of cheese mixture to pot, toss to combine, and then spread into even layer on bottom of pot. Add remaining bread pieces and half of remaining cheese to bowl with reserved tomato-onion mixture, toss to combine, and then transfer in even layer to top of pot. Pour reserved tomato juices gently over bread mixture, followed by stock (if using) and/or water, until liquid reaches to just below top of bread cubes. Scatter remaining cheeses over top of bread mixture, followed by 2 tablespoons olive oil.
Heat panade over medium heat until simmering (do not stir it!). Add water as needed to bring liquid level to just below top of bread cubes. Cover pot with lid (if your lid doesn’t form a tight seal, cover top of panade with a circle of parchment and sides and top of pot with foil) and transfer to oven.
Cook panade for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, until liquid is bubbling and bread cubes below surface of liquid are yielding and gelatinous in texture, adding water as needed to maintain liquid level to just below top of bread cubes (check liquid level every 30 minutes or so). Remove panade from oven and increase oven temperature to 375˚F. (Panade may be held for about an hour at this stage if kept covered.)
To finish: Remove lid, parchment, and foil (if using), drizzle top of panade with remaining 1/4 cup olive oil. Return to oven and bake until top is crispy and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Top with basil and serve.