Last Christmas, I decided to revisit an old tradition of serving snacky things on Christmas Eve as opposed to a proper, sit-down-at-the-table meal. I laid in loads of deli meats and cheeses, a vegetable tray, condiment tray, chips/dip platter, fruit and cheese tray, and a bunch of big fat Ciabatta rolls. Yum, right?
As the prep began, I had loads of help getting things arranged and onto the platters, but I got a lot of uncomfortable looks. So I stopped mid-prep and asked, “What?” The only response I could drag out of anyone was “This is a lot of food!” Funny, but it didn’t seem like a lot when I first conceptualized the menu but … it’ll get eaten, right?
Two months later, I admit that they were right and I was wrong. It was a LOT of food. I’ll go one better and concede that it was WAY too much food. Even though the thought that someone might want seconds seemed reasonable at the time, in retrospect it was a tad optimistic given how much food there was for the dinner menu … and the weekend menu … and New Year’s.
But as I’ve said before, I am NOT a quitter! I may have bought too much food but it will not go to waste. I will repurpose every possible morsel into delicious dishes and redeem myself, vowing NOT do it again when the next holiday rolls around.
Today, I am preparing a beautiful and delicious dish that I saw on a TV show last month. I’ve looked for the recipe and I can’t find it. I ran across some similar recipes but nothing captured the concept as I remember it … SO … once again I shall endeavor to come up with something of my own. Wish me luck. I just hope it turns out to be more attractive than the last time I made up my own dish.
Here we go!
Florentine Onion and Gruyere Panade
I recommend an enameled cast iron pan like the one pictured at the top of the post, or at least something that you can take from stovetop to oven to table.
Here’s the full recipe as I wish I had made it (having adjusted quantities based on the final outcome), followed by my usual notes about what went right and wrong. I also include some suggestions on how you can improve it if you decide to try it yourself.
Florentine Onion and Gruyere Panade
- 3 Tbsp. butter
- 3 onions, sliced
- Fresh baby spinach, 3-4 cups
- 4 cups stale bread, cubed
- 1 cup grated Gruyere
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1/2 t. salt
- 1/2 t. pepper
- 1 t. sugar
Preheat the oven to 325.
In a large pan, melt the butter. Add the sliced onions and sugar. Stir and cook for about 30-40 minutes or until onions are tender and caramelized.
Add spinach, salt and pepper to the onions, and toss to combine. Cover the pan to allow the spinach to steam and wilt, about 3 minutes.
Remove the spinach mixture from the pan and set aside. Deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup of the chicken stock. Then layer the bread, spinach/onion mixture, and some of the grated cheese in the pan, just to make about 3-4 layers. This layering gives the dish some even distribution of the ingredients.
Cover and bake at 325 for 35-40 minutes until bubbly. Remove the cover, increase the oven temperature to 400 and bake for another 15-20 minutes until golden brown and crispy on top.
And there you have it. Here’s the commentary. Let’s start with …
What went wrong:
A LOT! From combining recipe ingredients, preparation techniques, and cook times that I found online, I ended up with WAY too much liquid, too much fat, not enough cheese, and I used the wrong kind of bread.
I needed a more dense, tighter structure to the bread. Ciabatta had a much too open structure for this dish so I should have taken that into account. I did consider it, but I thought that the staleness would save me. It didn’t.
I had a fear that the dish would be bland because one similar recipe I found called for Lipton’s Onion Soup mix, which is very salty. Another called for canned onion soup which can also be salty. So in the end before I added my overabundance of chicken stock (I started with 1 1/2 cups as opposed to the 2 cups suggested by other sources), I added a tablespoon of “Better Than Bouillon” which pushed the saltiness over the edge.
Even cutting back the liquid, the dish was too mushy. excess liquid made it mushy. I even cubed another 1/2 of a Ciabatta roll and it still turned out too wet.
And again, all of the recipes that I found online used way too much butter. Many of them called for 1 stick. I cut the butter in half but it was still just too much fat. I accounted for that in the instructions above by lowering the quantity to 3 tbsp., but you could probably get away with even less than that.
What went right:
The onions cooked up nicely. The greens wilted well. The pan did great, as always. The train left the tracks when the bread and broth went in. Everything after that just didn’t work.
What would I do differently?
I’ve accounted for some things in the recipe list, and I’ve mentioned them above, but I’ll put all of this in one section so my thoughts are organized and maybe it will be easier to read. Here’s what I think and why I’d change things.
I would use a different kind of bread, probably the remnants of a loaf of basic white bread I’d made in the bread maker — the kind that doubles as pizza crust. It needs to be something that will stand up, which means no Brioche, definitely not Ciabatta. Something stronger with a tighter structure. And I’d probably toast the cubes ahead just to be on the safe side. This dish is a bit like stuffing; you can add moisture but once you’ve added too much, it’s not easy to correct.
I would use less stock, even with the change in bread, I’d still use less stock. Probably about a cup as designated in the recipe list above. Or even better, I might use another onion (4 rather than 3), 1/2 of a cup of stock, and then deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup of white wine.
I’d also add more thyme. I threw in just a few leaves of fresh thyme and it helped the flavor. If I made this again, I’d add more. Probably while I was caramelizing the onions or deglazing the pan.
I wish I’d thought to add mushrooms to the onions. I think that, with the fresh thyme, it would have been even more flavorful. And if I added mushrooms, I’d be very careful about how much stock I added because mushrooms can bring more moisture to the dish, depending on the choice of bread.
And I also think that the onions might be a little better if they weren’t so caramelized. One recipe I saw used the slow cooker method of caramelizing the onions ahead of time, and I can only imagine they’d have easily disappeared into the pan. Maybe that’s the point. But I like different textures, so maybe a tad less cook on the onions — enough to get that flavor but not so much that they disintegrate or cook down altogether.
Basically, this panade, as I’ve interpreted it from what I saw on TV and the recipes I’ve looked at online, is a savory bread pudding without the custard (egg and cream) to bind it. It uses the cheese to bind it but that doesn’t really work if the liquid ratio is off. And the liquid ratio on this concoction, as far as I’m concerned, was way off.
Other options and adaptations:
Make it vegetarian using vegetable stock and olive oil. Actually, I think a flavored or infused olive oil would be WAY better than the butter anyway.
To make it vegan, substitute the chicken stock with vegetable stock, and use olive oil instead of butter. In place of the Gruyere, sprinkle the layers with a mixture of cashews pulverized with nutritional yeast to give you a cheesy flavor.
Do I recommend trying this at home? Sure, why not? If you have the time and the ingredients to spare, there’s a lot to be learned here.
What I learned …
I learned to think of the kind of bread when deciding on how much stock to use. Not all bread is created equal and I knew that going in. But I just didn’t think of it when I was compiling the ingredients. Good lesson to learn.
Going forward in a similar situation, I’ll consider just using more onions for moisture and extra flavor, too, rather than adding stock.
I learned to think more about my flavors – I really wish I’d thought of mushrooms! And they could have helped with the liquid problem as I’d have known not to add as much if mushrooms were present.
And finally, I have also learned that there are times that you really can have too much butter. This was one of those times.
So give it a whirl! Really, you’re not wasting anything. It’s stale bread with a little stock, some spinach, onions and cheese. It’s not an expensive dish to mess up. So in terms of the cost of tuition, I’d do it again because, as indicated above, I learned at lot, and what I learned will help me think better on my feet.
As to the actual “wasted” food … well, I have an idea about what I might be able to do with that. I might be able to repurpose the dish. Check back in tomorrow and see if I can pull it off!