Recently, my husband and I saw Hilary Hahn perform. She was accompanied by pianist, Valentina Lisitsa. The performance was wonderful. It left me thinking, can artistry such as that be translated into food? I think so. If so, what would it look like? Possibly a souffle or a panade? Surely the dish would need a good dose of sophistication, a sprinkle of playfulness, and bring a pleasurable smile to those who eat it.
The craft of making music, seems to me to be light and airy. Perhaps a dish that is not too heavy, but yet feeds the spirit as well as nourishes the body, would fit the bill.
The making of music is much like any other craft, if one fine tunes and hones the skill, it can create much needed beauty in an otherwise troubled world. Just as a flower growing through a crack in a sidewalk seems to soften the hardness of the concrete, so too can craft diminish the sufferings of life.
Well then, I think a panade.
I was first introduced to this dish through Luisa Weiss. (Thank you, Luisa!) The panade pictured above is layers of cheese, carmelized onion, chard and bread, as I was assembling it, before it was baked. I decided to try the recipe Luisa has on her site from Zuni Cafe’s Cookbook.
After reading through the recipe, at first blush one thinks of peasant food made king-ish. (No, king-ish is not a word. But, it fits.) This is the type of thing that is fun to make and to eat. Baked until bubbly and golden brown, it shows well.
There seems to be a bit of confusion in the food world about what exactly is a panade. In researching this topic, the conclusion I came to is that a panade can be one of two things: a paste used to bind ingredients or a dish that is something like a gratin. The latter is probably why, in part, I was drawn to it. I am a succer for anything casserole-like.
I will say that if you are more of a get in the kitchen and get it done cook, this is not the dish for you. This is to be made when one has a desire to be in the kitchen for awhile. The recipe below is verbatim from Zuni Café. When I made it, I used two pounds of chard rather than one.
Chard and Onion Panade
1 1/2 pounds thinly sliced yellow onions
Up to 1/2 cup mild-tasting olive oil
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 pound Swiss chard (thick ribs removed), cut into 1-inch-wide ribbons
10 ounces day-old chewy peasant-style bread cut into rough 1-inch cubes
Up to 4 cups chicken stock
6 ounces Gruyère, coarsely grated
1. Place the onions in a deep 4-quart saucepan and drizzle and toss with oil to coat, about 1/4 cup. Set over medium-high heat and, shimmying the pan occasionally, cook until the bottom layer of onions is slightly golden around the edges, about 3 minutes. Stir and repeat.
2. Once the second layer of onions has colored, reduce the heat to low and stir in the garlic and a few pinches of salt. Stew, stirring occasionally, until the onions are a pale amber color and tender but not mushy, another 20 minutes or so. If at any point the onions look as if they may dry out, cover them to trap some of the moisture in the pan. Taste for salt. You should get about 2 1/4 cups cooked onions.
3. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees (or as low as 250 degrees, if it suits your schedule to stretch the cooking time from about 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours 45 minutes; the slower the bake, the more unctuous and mellow the results).
4. Wilt prepared chard in batches: Place a few handfuls of leaves in a 3-quart saute pan or a 10-to 12-inch skillet with a drizzle of oil, a sprinkling of water (if you’ve just washed the chard, it may have enough on the leaves), and a few pinches of salt. Set the pan over medium heat until the water begins to steam, then reduce the heat and stir and fold leaves until they are just wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Leaves should be uniformly bright green, the white veins pliable (the veins will blacken later if they are not heated through). Taste. The chard may be slightly metallic-tasting at this point, but make sure it’s salted to your taste. Set aside.
5. Toss and massage the cubed bread with a few tablespoons of olive oil, a generous 1/4 cup of the stock and a few pinches of salt, to taste.
6. Choose a flameproof, 3-quart souffle dish or enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. Assemble the panade in layers, starting with a generous smear of onions, followed by a loose mosaic of bread cubes, a second layer of onions, a wrinkled blanket of chard, and a handful of the cheese. Repeat, starting with bread, the onions and so on, until the dish is brimming. Aim for 2 to 3 layers of each component, then make sure the top layer displays a little of everything. Irregularity in the layers makes the final product more interesting and lovely. Drizzle with any remaining olive oil.
7. Bring the remaining 3 3/4 cups stock to a simmer and taste for salt. Add stock slowly, in doses, around the edge of the dish. For a very juicy, soft panade, best served on its own, like a soup or risotto, add stock nearly to the rim; for a firm but succulent panade, nice as a side dish, fill to about 1 inch below the rim. Wait a minute for stock to be absorbed, then add more to return to the desired depth. The panade may rise a little as the bread swells.
8. Set panade over low heat and bring to a simmer; look for bubbles around the edges (heating it here saves at least 30 minutes of oven time; it also means every panade you bake starts at the same temperature, so you can better predict total cooking times). Cover the top of the panade with parchment paper, then very loosely wrap the top and sides with foil. Place a separate sheet of foil under the panade or on the rack below it, to catch drips.
9. Bake until the panade is piping hot and bubbly. It will rise a little, lifting the foil with it. The top should be pale golden in the center and slightly darker on the edges. This usually takes about 1 1/2 hours, but varies according to shape and material of baking dish and oven. (You can hold the panade for another hour or so; just reduce the temperature to 275 degrees until 20 minutes before serving.)
10. Uncover panade, raise temperature to 375 degrees, and leave until golden brown on top, 10 to 20 minutes. (If you aren’t quite ready when your panade is, re-tent the surface with parchment and foil and reduce the heat to 275 degrees. You can hold it another half hour this way without it overbrowning or drying out.) Slide a knife down the side of the dish and check the consistency of the panade. Beneath the crust, it should be very satiny and it should ooze liquid as you press against it with the blade of the knife. If it seems dry, add a few tablespoons simmering chicken stock and bake for 10 minutes longer.