Spring has definitely sprung in the city of Sydney. As I write this I can see the new bright green leaves on the plane tree outside my window bursting with fresh growth. I can imagine that the leaves in the Northern Hemisphere are starting to think about turning brown. So we’re at one of those rare times of the year where everyone can appreciate a little comfort food.
I’m super excited about todays recipe. It’s one of those things that is slightly unusual but makes perfect sense. One of those things that when you taste it, you can’t believe that is isn’t a mainstream comfort classic. One of those things that should be in the family recipe hall of fame, up there with lasagne, bangers and mash, or a roast chook (chicken) with all the trimmings. One of those things that you wish you’d thought of yourself.
We’re talking about a savoury bread pudding. Flavoured with golden brown onions and the fragrance of thyme. With the bread providing the perfect contrast of textures: a soft, stock-soaked, silky base teamed with a super crunchy cheesy topping. We’re talking something so delicious that my Irishman declared it to be the best thing he’s eaten in months. And that’s not saying that there wasn’t some stiff competition.
But the best thing is that it’s super simple to make. If you’d rather watch than read, have a look at the little video I’ve prepared.
Inspired by Judy Rodgers in the wonderful Zuni Cafe cookbook.
Judy has three different takes on this pandade: a tomato version, one with chard (silverbeet) and another more unusual one with sorrel. While all three sounded lovely, the minimalist in me couldn’t help but strip it back to the bare essentials of onion, bread and cheese.
I also change the cooking time quite a bit. Judy goes for a slow oven for a few hours. I decided to risk speeding things up with a hot oven and was very happy with the results.
It’s one of those things that’s equally good hot from the oven, cooled to room temperature, or even reheated the next day. You won’t have any problems getting rid of any leftovers.
This is a brilliant way to use up stale bread, but fresh can be used as well. Just make sure it’s a hearty rustic loaf, preferably sourdough – not something white and insipid.
I used a vintage cheddar as my cheese but anything that makes good cheese on toast would work. Next time I think I’ll use parmesan because I tend to have it in the house more often than not.
This makes a wonderful vegetarian main course with a green salad on the side. But I think it would also be a warming accompaniment to a roast chicken or even some roast beef.
4 large brown onions (approx 1kg / 2lb)
1/2 bunch thyme, leaves picked
1/2 medium loaf rustic bread (approx 250g / 1/2lb), torn in to chunks
150g (5oz) cheese, grated or crumbled
3 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1. Preheat oven to 200C (400F).
2. Cut onion in half lengthwise. Peel, then slice into half moons about 5mm (1/4in) thick.
3. Heat 4 – 5 tablespoons olive oil in a large frying pan. Cook onion stirring occasionally until soft and golden brown. No need to caramelise. Stir in the thyme.
4. In a medium heatproof dish layer about a third of the onions. Sprinkle over some of the bread and cheese. Repeat until all the ingredients have been used. You want to be able to see a little of each on the top.
5. Bring stock to a simmer. Pour over the onion dish. Season.
6. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake for another 20 – 30 minutes or until the top is golden and crunchy and the stock has been absorbed by the bread.
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