Last fall, during the lay-off, we took in a roommate. A good friend of ours needed a place to live for a few months, and we had been thinking about renting the second bedroom for extra cash. His rent included dinner every night, which was a bit of an upgrade for him. (He’s a great guy, but the one cookbook he owns is A Man, a Can, a Plan.)
Whenever our friend talks about his time at our place, the nightly dinner always gets mentioned. I’ve asked him for his favorite and most distinctive food memory from his time with us, and his answer is always the same: kale. When he thinks of eating at our table, he thinks about kale.
This dish, a panade, literally, a “big bread thing,” is my absolute most favorite thing to do with kale. It takes a good long time to prepare and even longer to bake, so I typically make it on football Sundays in the late fall and wintertime, starting around 1:00 for a 4:30 meal. I say Sundays because I always use leftover challah, although it’s certainly not what the recipe calls for.
In fact, the recipe I use doesn’t even include kale. It calls for chard, which I am sure would be dandy, but as soon as I saw the ingredients — stewed onions, chard, and fontina, nestled in between cubes of bread and bathed in stock — I thought kale would be even better. This season, you can get a bunch of kale for under a dollar — mine was .79 at Russo’s.
You can certainly use fancy fontina, but if you want to keep costs down, Trader Joe’s cheeses work great. I had some leftover veggie stock in the fridge, so we used that, along with the frozen turkey stock Rich made the day after Thanksgiving. We’ve found that animal stock makes the dish unctuous and more layered with flavor and depth, but I promise you, it will be delicious veggie-only as well.
This is one of those dishes that requires the dirtying of a frustrating amount of dishes, and Rich and I make it together, each tackling a part of the preparation. But trust me, the time and dirty dishes are well worth it.
Kale and Onion Panade with Fontina
Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco’s Beloved Restaurantby Judy Rodgers
1 1/2 pounds thinly sliced yellow onions, a sweet variety if possible (about 6 cups)
1/2 cup olive oil
6 garlic cloves, slivered
1 pound kale (or Swiss chard), carefully washed, with the thick stems removed, and cut into 1-inch-wide ribbons — dirt loves to get caught in kale’s curls, so pay close attention at the sink
A little water, as needed
10 ounces day-old chewy peasant-style bread (or challah), cut into rough 1-inch cubes (8 to 10 cups)
Up to 4 cups stock
About 6 ounces Fontina or Swiss Gruyere, coarsely grated (about 2 cups very loosely packed)
Preparing the onions, kale and bread:
Place the onions in a deep 4-quart saucepan and drizzle and toss with olive 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 on the edges. Stir and repeat. Once the second layer of onions has colored — it might take as long as 25 minutes of slow, slow cooking — stir in the garlic and a few pinches of salt. Stew, stirring occasionally, until the onions are pale amber colored 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.
Preheat the oven to 325.
Wilt the prepared kale in batches. Place a few handfuls of leaves in a 3 quart saute pan or 10-to-12 inch skillet with a drizzle of oil, a sprinkling of water (if you’ve just watched the kale, it may have enough water still clinging to 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 the leaves until they are just wilted, about 6 or 7 minutes. The leaves should be uniformly bright green. Taste.
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.
Building the panade:
Choose a flameproof 2-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 kale, and a handful of the cheese. Repeat, starting with bread, then onions, and so on, continuing 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. Don’t try to make the layers flat or even; irregularity makes the final product more interesting and lovely. And don’t worry if you need to pack the layers a bit. Drizzle with any remaining olive oil.
Bring the remaining 3 3/4 cups stock to a simmer. Add it 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 still succulent panade, nice as a side dish, fill to about 1 inch below the rim. Once you’ve added the stock, wait a minute for it to be absorbed, then add more if necessary to return to the desired depth. The panade may rise a little as the bread swells.
Baking the panade:
Set the 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, dull side out. Place a separate sheet of foil directly under the panade or on the rack below it, to catch the inevitable drips. 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 the shape and material of your baking dish, and your oven.
Browning and serving the panade:
Uncover the panade, raise the temperature to 375, and leave until golden brown on top, 10 to 20 minutes. 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. It it seems dry, add a few tablespoons simmering stock and bake for 10 minutes longer.
Present the panade full blown, then allow it to settle for a minute before serving directly from the baking dish.