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Sog Story

I am, dear reader, a bread snob. I’m a harsh critic of crust and crumb, a stickler for sourdough, and very, very picky about my pain au levain. In my experience, few things trigger heartache like a cardboard baguette or a spongy, thin-skinned boule—and honey, I have known heartache.

But lately I’ve found myself feeling an unabashed affection for a type of bread that would ordinarily fall under the general category of “bad,” and that would be soggy bread. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if the title of this blog isn’t something of a misnomer. “Orangette” is apt enough, I suppose, and certainly, plenty of chocolate-dipped orange rinds have passed these lips, but given the recent output of my kitchen, “Sog Story” seems more fitting. It may seem a bit sog-centric of me, but as far as I’m concerned, first there was pappa al pomodoro; then there was panade; and then there was light.

James Baldwin once wrote, “To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread. It will be a great day for America, incidentally, when we begin to eat bread again, instead of that blasphemous and tasteless foam rubber that we have substituted for it” (The Fire Next Time, 1963).

Now, I’d certainly second that, but if it were up to me, I’d rephrase things a bit. To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in soggy bread, in sogginess itself and to be present with all that we make soggy, from the effort of soaking to the eating of wet bread. It will be a great day for America when we begin to eat soggy bread, instead of blasphemously and tastelessly scorning it.

Indeed, I’m starting to think that if I’m to be remembered for anything, it might as well be for my unflagging advocacy of panade, a velvety, voluptuous casserole with a base of soggy bread and stewed onions. This is where stale bread goes when it’s been very, very good.

As someone who has cobbled together some of her most satisfying meals from little more than bread, cheese, and a bowl of greens, I’m prone to nothing less than fits of fork-in-air ecstasy before a steaming plate of this peasant fare, a slurp-worthy mosaic of day-old bread, coarsely grated gruyère, wilted chard, and caramelized onions, doused in chicken broth and baked until swollen and silky.

Somewhere between the full-bodied flavor of good broth, the unctuous ooze of melting gruyère, and the deep, dark sweetness of slow-cooked onions, panade becomes something infinitely greater—and wondrously richer—than the sum of its simple parts. A cross between soup and stuffing, it's an ideal accompaniment to a chilly night’s dinner of roasted chicken, lamb, or pork, but it’s also plenty satisfying on its own, with little more than a green salad alongside.

If this is what a soggy Seattle winter tastes like, there will be some serious heartache when spring rolls around.

Chard, Onion, and Gruyère Panade
Adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook

If you, like me, aren’t regularly cooking for a crowd, you may be tempted to toss aside this recipe, assuming that this delicate, soupy stuff won’t make for good leftovers. Skeptical reader, I argue otherwise. Once refrigerated, the panade will soak up its extra liquid and become something like a moist Thanksgiving stuffing, but all is not lost. A quick jolt in the microwave will restore its soft unctuousness, even if its soupiness is gone. In fact, it makes for wonderful at-work lunches: easily transported in a Tupperware container, it is hearty, satisfying fuel for a day of whatever it is that you do. And if you’re into gilding the lily, Judy Rodgers, chef of the Zuni Café, also recommends pan-frying flattened scoops of leftovers. I haven’t yet tried this method, but if you do, please report back.

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

To prepare the onions:
Place the onions in a large, deep saucepan or Dutch oven, and drizzle and toss with about ¼ cup olive oil. Set over medium-high heat, and shaking the pan 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 pale amber and 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 degrees Fahrenheit.

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 and their white veins quite pliable. Set aside.

To prepare the bread:
Using your hands, toss and massage the cubed bread with 2 or 3 Tbs olive oil, ¼ cup of the broth, and a few pinches of salt.

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.

Yield: About 5 main-dish servings, or 6-8 side-dish servings


Blogger s'kat said...

The air is rapidly turning cool, and the nights have become downright chilly 'round these parts.

Molly, you have my attention.

5:52 AM, October 14, 2005  
Blogger tara said...

As S'kat said, this is a perfect antidote to the grey skies overhead and the blustery wind outside today. Bread has always been a weakness, and I'm never short of amazed on how it, even stale, can be transformed by some care. Bread pudding and pain perdu immediately come to mind, but this savoury, cheesy concoction you've placed before us surpasses them all! Off to get out a casserole dish.

7:03 AM, October 14, 2005  
Blogger foodiechickie said...

Molly I sooo love bread also. Give me some butter or good cheese and I am a happy happy girl. Oh do you watch the Gilmore Girls? I could honestly see you being a character on that show and I mean that in the highest complimentory(is that a word?) way. You would definetly be the food chieftess of that show.

9:00 AM, October 14, 2005  
Blogger Dianka said...

Bread is the ultimate comfort food. Paired with honey or jam makes it the ultimate delicacy! Great blog, Molly! Check out my new food, travel & wine blog at: http://na-zdravi.blogspot.com/

Definitely will keep this recipe on hand, thanks!

9:12 AM, October 14, 2005  
Blogger {m} said...

more use for my favorite greens, swiss chard! thanks!

9:40 AM, October 14, 2005  
Blogger Shauna said...

Yum. As you know, sadly, I couldn't partake of this delightful, cheese-oozing mouth full of gorgeous sighs. Bread. Ah well. Gluten-free bread becomes soggy immediately, but not the way you mean it. I'll just keep dreaming.

9:47 AM, October 14, 2005  
Anonymous kayenne said...

looks good. i think i'll try that. but i'll have to adapt it a bit using spinach and maybe feta and mozzarella/quickmelt cheese, plus my favorite herb foccacia or soemthing. i don't see chard here. and cheeses cost so much!

been also planning to make the ginger-pear cake. your recipes actually help me relieve stress. ;P

10:57 AM, October 14, 2005  
Blogger Carol said...

How funny...I've been on a soggy bread kick as well, ever since I tried the bread salad at Zuni. I made your pappa al pomodoro, then a panzanella and have been contemplating a chocolate bread pudding. Soggy bread...a revelation!

12:19 PM, October 14, 2005  
Anonymous Melissa said...

Molly, I think this sets a new record - I read this yesterday afternoon, and by dinnertime we were happily munching away on panade. It was *so* delicious; hearty and warming and comforting without being too heavy. Shauna, give it a try - I used the lightest gf bread I could find and toasted slices of it in a warm oven until nearly dry, and then I used only about 2/3 of the liquid called for and baked it for just under and hour. It wasn't quite as soupy as it should have been, but it was every bit as soft and rich and flavorful... Perfect.

10:15 AM, October 15, 2005  
Anonymous Julie said...

Molly, this both looks and sounds delectable and comforting. My Egyptian ex taught me to make a soggy-bread dish which I think you would like. Have you ever had Fateh? It's lamb cooked until tender in its own highly seasoned broth, then layered over rice, lamb-broth-soaked pita shards, and a spicy garlic sauce. You eat it with bowls of lamb broth alongside to keep drenching the whole...

7:38 PM, October 16, 2005  
Blogger karin said...

Hi Molly,
thank you for posting such wonderful recipes, it seems like I eat them all! last night we enjoyed eggs in yogurt and I have preprepared all of the ingredients for a version of this recipe. I am substituting spinache for chard and a mix of mozzarella and pecorino for the gruyere, I hope it works.

11:24 AM, October 17, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

S'kat, the clouds have settled over Seattle, and (in my apartment, at least) all eyes have settled on the stove. I think another panade is a-brewin'...

Tara, you speak my language. I think you'll approve of panade, m'dear.

Foodiechickie, I'm sorry to say that I haven't seen Gilmore Girls (I know, I know; I have a love-hate relationship with my television), but I trust your judgment. Especially because you and I share similar sentiments about bread, butter, and cheese!

Dianka, thanks for pointing me to your new blog--and best of luck to you.

You're most welcome, maia! I love the chard in this recipe; it brings such a good, earthy note. Hope you think so too!

Shauna, my dear, dream no more! Apparently, Melissa has given it a go with gluten-free bread, and she deems it infinitely edible! Looks like a sigh of relief is in order, not to mention a few "gorgeous sighs"...

Kayenne, I think you'll find that panade is nothing if not a great stress-reliever, food-wise. I mean, it's hard to feel uptight when you have a mouthful of soft, silky bread, right? As for your adaptation of the recipe, be careful if you use focaccia: the texture might be a bit too light and spongy for this method, and it might be a bit too oily and salty. If nothing else is available, you might be better off using a baguette. Good luck!

Carol, I hear you. Although I've yet to try that Zuni bread salad, it sounds like something that would make a soggy-bread convert out of anyone. Keep enjoying that revelation, m'dear!

Melissa, you are a straight-up speed demon, honey. I'm so glad to hear that you tried the panade--and that it works well gluten-free. Three cheers for adventures in soggy bread!

Julie, fateh sounds outrageously good--and it's not a bad "souvenir" from an ex, don't you think? Might you be writing about it anytime soon?

Karin, it's lovely to meet you. Thank you for trying these recipes, and for sharing in my enthusiasm for them! Your panade variation sounds very, very promising...

7:07 PM, October 17, 2005  
Blogger foodiechickie said...


6:22 AM, October 18, 2005  
Blogger Dawna said...

Ah, yet another way to use good bread that is passed its prime. As another resident of the wet coast, my skies are as grey as yours in Seattle, but my kitchen will definitely be the brighter for this little gem. Anything that resembles bread stuffing, bread salad, or bread soup (!) is worth a go in my books, and this recipes sounds the perfect thing for warming up as the days get colder..

12:52 PM, October 18, 2005  
Blogger Michèle said...

Hi Molly, you converted bread snob you. I've never felt an urge to go out and buy swiss chard like I do now! This dish looks quite heartwarming and I cant wait to give it a try.. Can I ask you what type of broth you use? Is it homemade or is there a particular store bought brand that happens to be your favourite?

5:24 AM, October 19, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Dawna, I can definitely attest to panade's warming qualities! I hope it brings an almost-sunny glow to your kitchen, my dear.

And Michele, get yourself to the marché, ma cherie! As for broth, I must admit to *not* making my own. I will give it a go one of these days, but sadly, for sanity's sake, this working girl has to draw the line. I use Imagine brand organic free-range chicken broth, which is a bit strong on the chicken flavor, I think, but otherwise quite delicious. I can only imagine, though, how over-the-top fantastic panade might be with homemade broth. If you try it, do tell...

9:30 PM, October 19, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, the joys of coastal Maine! As the temperature drops to frost each night, and the boat is still in the water because we may get a few more good sailing days before snow, we think of Cioppino, that hearty San Franciscan/Portuguese fish stew. We make ours with a rich, spicy, oily, garlicky tomato broth in which lobster shells and fish bones have simmered, and into which we put any or all of: lobster meat, clams, mussles, shrimp, scallops, haddock, baby squid. Pour a generous serving of this over a slab of bread in a deep flat soup bowl, and let the winds howl and the snows come.
Uncle Arnie,
.......slow speaker, indeed!

9:48 AM, October 22, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

My dearest slow speaker Uncle Arnie, you'd better watch yourself. This cioppino description is enough to make your niece want to hop the next plane to Maine. I should have known that you two would know your way around a bowlful of seafood and soggy bread. Sounds heavenly, dear unc. xoxo!

9:50 PM, October 22, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know how it's possible, but this recipe gets better each time I make it. It's a miracle in itself that I actually made something edible (let alone delicious!). Thanks for your inspiring recipes!

11:29 AM, November 17, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Anonymous, you're more than welcome! Actually, we should both be thanking Judy Rodgers and the Zuni Cafe, since I'm really just the messenger. But nonetheless, I'm thrilled to hear of your success--"miracle" or no--and I'm delighted to have been a part of it!

5:04 PM, November 17, 2005  
Blogger yatima said...

A friend brought this over for a potluck dinner last night; we had it with my mother-in-law's poulet bonne femme. It was insanely great. Thank you!

9:39 AM, June 04, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

That's terrific, Yatima! I'm so glad to hear it.

11:59 PM, June 04, 2007  
Anonymous Raye said...

Hi Molly!

Congrats on your wedding!

I made your panade tonight and it was amazing. I used romano cheese and old ciabatta.

I didn't do the extra step of heating it up before baking it and it still came out great - gooey and crispy at the same time. Also, I messed up and didn't use a large enough dish initially - so my careful layers all got dumped into a larger dish. Still wonderful and I doubt it would have made a difference to keep the layers.

9:36 PM, August 23, 2007  
Blogger absenthine said...


I have a new favorite dish. This is the perfect antidote to the late-November blues! Or the mid-February blues, or the "I hate January" funk...

The bread and cheese and onions are already fantastic, and then you add broth and chard! Mmmm.


3:20 PM, November 25, 2007  
Anonymous Michelle A said...

Molly, this is the first recipe of yours I have tried, I am new to your blog. It was the most delicious thing I have ever made. Absolutely amazing. Thank you so much!


4:02 AM, March 10, 2010  
Anonymous Sarah W said...

I made this last night despite my skepticism about how wonderful soggy bread could be. It was so much better than I imagined. Truly greater than the sum of its parts. The bread turned into almost silken chunks and it filled the house with delicious smells. We ate this as a main course and were totally satisfied.

I used homemade broth, which had a lot of gelatin in it, so we didn't have quite as much brothiness as it looks like you did in your photos. Next time, I might use a bigger dish and add a little extra broth. My husband and I were fighting over the saucy broth at the bottom of the dish. A bigger dish would also help with overflow--the rimmed baking sheet I put under my 2.5 quart casserole was full of black, charred broth by the time it was finished. Perhaps that's another reason we didn't end up with as much broth, eh?

Like another reader, I also skipping the step where you simmer everything in the dish on the stove. I just poured the simmering broth/water mix into the other ingredients and threw it in the oven for the max time suggested. It turned out great. Thanks!

11:44 AM, January 05, 2011  
Blogger mt.st.mtn. said...

I cannot thank you enough for this recipe. Since you first made this post, I figure I've made this blissful dish at least 50 times. I'm a huge fan of your recipes, but this might be my all time favorite because it always makes my friends and family wide-eyed with joy when they take that first, steaming bite. I have never made this to anything less than rave reviews.

Tonight, I received the highest compliment. As my normally picky 5 year old sat there, savoring her first bite, with her eyes half-closed, she let out a huge sigh of contentment and said, "When you make this, it makes me want to never eat anything else ever again."

My favorite way to make the panade is when I use a small loaf of seeded French bread (the fennel and poppy seeds take the recipe to another level of goodness), and served with a salad of arugula with grapefruit/ginger dressing.

So. Freaking. Good.

9:33 PM, January 26, 2011  
Blogger M said...

Yummy! I made this with some cornbread that was languishing in my fridge, along with spinach, white cheddar, and veggie broth...delicious! Thanks for a lovely winter recipe Molly.

8:28 PM, January 30, 2011  
Blogger Greg said...

I love ya Molly, but I hate soggy bread with the burning white hot intensity of a thousand suns....

4:51 PM, October 26, 2011  
Anonymous Arif Vega said...

There is a place, not far from our Seattle heritage, that way out in the woods lies in silence under the Mountain Index. It is a small town (almost not a town at all) where at the general store they are happy to serve up two lonely menu items. The first is Korean BBQ. The second is referred to as foccacia bread.

Many a late morning have I spent in those woods with sun streaming through the trees and last nights rain still dripping from branches on my shiny balden head.

I sit on a log thoughtfully chewing (and yes, this is definitely chewing) on a shred of this foccacia bread, stretched and mercilessly torn, heartily adorned with ground beef and grilled onion.

There is a firepit but I light no fire. There is no need for that now. The cool moisture of the moss soaks into the seat of my pants, and the drip... drip... drip... is creating a steady flow of water down the back of my shirt.

I become lost in the sound of the Skykomish River roaring past at the edge of the forest. Still chewing, now as soggy as the bread I eat, I can feel my mind decompose. My body melts away, dissolved into a spongey forest floor and here I become one with the elements.

9:22 PM, April 24, 2012  

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