This Easter was a little different than usual. This year we were on a hiatus from our traditional Easter extravaganza with a group of old friends. I am the sort of person who enjoys tradition, repetition, routine, predictability. I like knowing that from year to year, I can count on certain things to remain the same. But life is about change, and sometimes things do get shaken up a bit. That’s just how it goes and I learn, little by little, to embrace that.
So this year, we were writing our own script. It was a family Easter this year. And I thought that since we usually have a vegetarian Easter, why not make this one a little meatier? One thing I knew I could not do without was well-paired wine, courtesy of my local wine merchant, Larry. He put as much care into selecting the two bottles for this year as he does for the case I usually buy for Easter. Something I decided I could do without was cooking all day, which isn’t my cup of holiday tea, so to speak.
So we went casual. An extensive tray of charcuterie, a duck and cognac pate, an array of cheeses, olives, cornichons, slices of baguette, mustard, and quince paste for the first course, with a bottle of Malbec.
For the next course, a simple roasted chicken and a chard and onion panade, with a bottle of Pinot Gris. My nephew loves chard, so this panade was for him.
And Sissy made devil’s food cupcakes with ganache frosting for dessert.
In this meaty feast, this pivot from our usual delightful vegetarian Easter fare, who would have guessed that the vegetables would steal the show? The chard and onion panade was hot, fragrant, and hearty. The combination of deeply caramelized onions, broth, bread, and cheese was reminiscent of French onion soup, but much more substantial. The ribbons of chard were tender, but chewy, adding a bit of texture to the soft tangle of golden onions and pillowy, brothy bread cubes. The panade could easily stand alone as a main course, needing nothing but a crunchy salad to complete the meal.
This dish did require about an hour of active cooking before slipping it into the oven to bake peacefully beside the chicken. For a holiday meal, that’s a pretty good time investment. It’s not too bad for any lazy Sunday afternoon either, when you can enjoy the cooking process, then go curl up on the couch with a book and wait for the rich smell wafting from the kitchen to envelop you like a comfortable afghan.
Chard and Onion Panade
(adapted from the Zuni Café Cookbook)
- 1 1/2 pounds (about 2 large) thinly sliced yellow onions
- olive oil
- 8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1.5 lbs Swiss chard (about 3 bunches), thick ribs removed, cut into 1-inch-wide ribbons
- 10 ounces day-old hearty bread cut into rough 1-inch cubes
- 3 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock for vegetarian version)
- 8 ounces Gruyère, coarsely grated
In a large sauté pan, drizzle onions with enough olive oil to coat. Add garlic and a generous pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until onions are golden and caramelized, but without any browned edges-about 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place another large sauté pan over medium heat. In three or four batches, drizzle chard with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. If chard is dry, sprinkle on some water. Steam chard until wilted but still bright green—3 or 4 minutes per batch.
In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with a few tablespoons of olive oil, about ½ cup of the stock, and salt to taste.
In a flameproof, 3-quart casserole or skillet, assemble the panade in layers: onions, bread cubes, chard, cheese, repeat, topping with a handful of bread cubes.
Bring the remaining stock to a simmer and taste for salt. Add stock slowly around the edge of the dish to about 1 inch below the rim.
Set panade over low heat and bring to a simmer. Cover loosely with foil, and place in oven with a cookie sheet on the rack below to catch any drips. Bake for about 1 ½ hours, or until hot and bubbly. Uncover, increase temperature to 375 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Serves 4 as a main course or 8 as a side dish