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Recipe: A meatless casserole with French flair

Stale bread and harvest vegetables are the stars of panade, a savory, autumn treat.

Bell Pepper, Fennel, and Goat Cheese Panade.
Photograph by anthony tieuli; food styling by Sheila jarnes
Bell pepper, fennel, and goat cheese panade.

Panade is a thrifty French dish comprising stale bread, vegetables, broth or milk, and cheese. Think of it as the love child of a thick soup, savory bread pudding, and cheesy gratin. The interplay of two textures — crisp, deeply browned bread atop plush, silky bread and vegetables — is a treat akin to the extra stuffing you bake in the oven as the turkey rests. Panade is rich and hearty enough to serve as a main course, but smaller pieces are also terrific accompaniments to meat, poultry, and fish of many stripes.

Bell Pepper, Fennel, and Goat Cheese Panade

Makes one 13-by-9-inch panade; serves at least 8

The quantity of cooked vegetables here is about 6 to 7 cups; you should always use a good quantity of onions, but can substitute other cooked vegetables as well. Likewise, vary the cheese as you wish (as long as it melts well) and the quantity of liquid; use a little more if you want a really moist panade.

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1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 large fennel bulb, trimmed, halved, cored, and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide strips (about 4 cups), and 2 tablespoons fronds, finely chopped and reserved

Salt and ground black pepper

2 large red, orange, or yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips (about 4 cups)

1 tablespoon pressed or grated garlic (about 5 medium cloves)

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1 1/2 teaspoons ground fennel seed

3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 pounds onions (about 4 medium), halved and each half thickly sliced (about 8 cups)

2 bay leaves

2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary or thyme

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1 1/2 pounds stale, hearty white bread (not sourdough) or pain au levain or pain de campagne, thick crusts removed if desired, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 16 cups, lightly packed)

3 cups coarsely grated goat milk cheddar (about 9 ounces)

About 3 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth, hot

In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until shimmering. Add the fennel and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers and continue to cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender-crisp, about 8 minutes longer. Add the garlic, ground fennel, and red pepper flakes and continue to cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl and set aside.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the Dutch oven, return it to medium-high heat, and heat until shimmering. Add the onions, bay leaves, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until they begin to soften and release some liquid, about 6 minutes. Adjust the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot occasionally (and adjusting the heat as necessary to make sure onions don’t scorch) until they are sticky and golden, about 40 to 60 minutes longer. Remove the bay leaves. Add the rosemary or thyme and stir to combine, scrape the onions into the bowl with the fennel mixture, stir to combine, and set aside.

Meanwhile, with the rack in the middle position, heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl toss the bread cubes with 3 tablespoons olive oil to coat. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and ground black pepper to taste and toss to distribute. Spread the bread evenly on a large rimmed baking sheet and bake until light gold, tossing once or twice during the baking time, about 40 minutes (leave the oven on). Reserve about 2 cups of the bread cubes.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and grease a 3-quart (roughly 13-by-9-inch) baking dish with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Spread about 1 cup of the vegetable mixture in the dish. Evenly distribute about half the bread cubes in the pan, followed by about half the vegetable mixture, and then half the grated cheese; refrigerate the remaining cheese. Repeat the layering with the remaining bread and vegetables. Scatter the reserved 2 cups bread cubes evenly over the top and gently push down into the mixture. Pour about half the hot broth into the dish, wait about 2 minutes for the bread to start absorbing it, then add the remaining broth, which should reach to 1 inch below the rim of the dish. Set the baking dish on the prepared baking sheet, loosely cover with foil, and bake until the bread has absorbed the liquid and the panade is slightly puffed and golden brown on the surface, about 1 1/2 hours.

Adjust the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Remove the foil and sprinkle the remaining cheese across the surface. Return the panade to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the cheese and the bread on the surface are deeply browned, about 15 to 18 minutes longer. Cool the panade on a wire rack for 10 minutes, sprinkle with the reserved fennel fronds, cut into squares, and serve hot.

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Variation: Cabbage, Leek, and Gruyere Panade

Makes one 13-by-9-inch panade; serves at least 8

Follow the recipe for the Bell Pepper, Fennel, and Goat Cheese Panade, making the following changes:

1) Substitute 3 medium leeks (about 1 1/2 pounds), cleaned, trimmed, and white and light green parts halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 6 1/2 cups) and about 3/4 pound Savoy cabbage, cored and thickly shredded (about 7 1/2 cups, lightly packed) for the bell peppers and fennel.

2) In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until shimmering. Add the leeks, cabbage, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until the vegetables wilt, about 9 minutes. Add the garlic as directed, but omit the ground fennel and red pepper flakes.

3) Decrease the quantity of onions to 2 medium (about 1 pound), halved and each half thickly sliced (about 4 cups), and cook as directed. Choose thyme rather than rosemary and add it to the onions as directed.

4) Substitute Gruyere cheese for the goat milk cheddar.

Panfried Leftover Panade with Fried Eggs

Serves 2 (2 eggs and 1 piece of panade per serving)

Make sure the panade has been refrigerated overnight, and is cold when you cut your pieces. I find long, relatively narrow slices of panade hold together better. You’ll need a wide, nonstick-safe spatula to move them in the skillet.

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 6-inch long by 2- to 3-inch wide pieces leftover, cold panade

4 large eggs

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

With the rack in the lower-middle position, heat the oven to 200 degrees. In a small or medium nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat 2 teaspoons of the oil until shimmering. Gently add the panade pieces with the cut side down and cook, undisturbed, until deeply browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Gently turn and repeat to brown the second cut side, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Gently transfer the panade pieces to a heatproof plate and place it in the oven to keep the cheese warm.

Meanwhile, break two eggs into each of two small bowls. Return the skillet to medium-high heat, add the remaining oil, allow it to heat for a moment, and swirl to coat the cooking surface. Add the eggs all at once, sprinkle them lightly with salt and pepper, and cook, undisturbed, for about 2½ minutes for runny yolks or 3 to 3½ minutes for thicker yolks that are firm on the bottom.

Plate the panade with two eggs, sprinkle with half the parsley, and serve at once.

Adam Ried appears regularly on “America’s Test Kitchen.” Send comments to cooking@globe.com. Get the best of the magazine’s award-winning stories and features right in your e-mail inbox every Sunday.Sign up here.