A panade is one of those dishes that is way better than it has any right to be — or than it looks to be. It's an assembly of day-old bread, shredded cheese, and handy pantry ingredients (in this case, cranberry beans, swiss chard, and sausage) that gets doused with broth and baked until bubbly. Not quite a soup and not quite a casserole, it's something more: the best of both worlds.
The only real draw-back to panades, in my opinion, is that they take so long to bake that I'm always starving by the time it's ready. This is where my friend the slow cooker comes in.
I make all the main ingredients the night before -- toasting the bread, cooking the filling, even shredding the cheese -- and then assemble everything the next day in the slow cooker. I think the panade is best when cooked for six hours on the HIGH setting, but cutting it back to four hours or slowing it down for eight hours on LOW is also ok. Ten hours is doable, but you might start to get a little burning around the edges.
Be forewarned: this recipe make a lot. It's perfect for feeding a crowd or making a week's worth of meals ahead of time. It also freezes surprisingly well, though it looks even more rustic once re-heated! I recommend freezing in individual containers and reheating in a bowl in the microwave.
Heat the oven to 350°F. Slice the bread into cubes roughly 1-inch in size. Toss the cubes with a drizzle of olive oil and a healthy sprinkle of salt, and spread them out in a single layer on one or two baking sheets. Toast in the oven, stirring once or twice, until completely dry and golden, 30-40 minutes. Set aside and let cool. Make-ahead: Bread can be toasted and stored in an airtight container up to a day ahead.
Warm a teaspoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt, and cook until the onions have softened and started turning golden, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped chard stems and the sausage, and continue cooking until the stems are softened, another 3-5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and thyme, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer the onion mixture to a clean bowl.
Warm another teaspoon of oil in the pan and stir in the chard leaves with a healthy pinch of salt. If the pan looks dry, add two teaspoons of water. Cover the pan and let the chard steam for 2-3 minutes. Remove the lid and stir. Repeat as needed until the chard is completely wilted and tastes tender. Stir the chard into the onion mixture and set aside. Make-ahead: The onion mixture can be kept refrigerated for up to three days.
To assemble the panade, scatter 1/3 of the bread cubes on the bottom of a 6- to 7-quart slow cooker (See Recipe Notes for oven directions). Spread 1/3 of the onion and chard mixture and 1 cup of the beans over the top. Scatter 1/3 of the cheese over the entire layer. Repeat to make three total layers, reserving the last 1/3 of the cheese for later. Pour the stock evenly over the top of the panade.
Cover the slow cooker and cook for 4-6 hours on HIGH or 8 hours on LOW. Sprinkle the cheese over the top of the panade in the last 15 minutes of cooking. Serve in bowls.
Oven Directions: Assemble the panade in a 9x13 casserole dish or Dutch oven. Cover with foil or a lid, and bake at 350°F for 45 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with cheese, and continue baking uncovered for another 15 minutes.
Freezing Leftovers: Freeze leftover panade in individual containers. Re-heat in the microwave on HIGH for 5-7 minutes, stirring once or twice during cooking.