Christmas week tends to be quite hectic. Lots of socialising, lots of eating, maybe even a wee glass or two of something to lubricate it all with. By the gap between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve I am often craving simple comforting food to balance out my yearly festival of meat and red wine.
Usually I go for boiled rice, but this year a conversation with family friends reminded me of the childhood dish of panada. A steaming dish of stale bread soaked in boiling water and covered in hot milk, before being sprinkled with sugar, it was designed to warm you up and fill you up. I associate it with my mum’s side of the family and she used to make it for her father when he came in from the farm in the evenings, hungry after dinner.
I thought it was an entirely Northern Irish dish and then a quick Google to see how to spell panada told me it was the very opposite. This dish is global. Panada comes from the Spanish word for a bread soup and I have no idea why the name would stick in Norn Iron when the dish is known through England as bread and milk. This was constantly mentioned in the Enid Blyton books I adored as a child, but I assumed it was a slice of loaf and a beaker of milk like a light snack, but the internet led me to see that Nigella Lawson has a recipe for it in Feast and a whole new world of comfort food was opened up to me.
This Chowhound thread shows that the dish is universal throughout Europe and North America in various forms, even forming the basis of the dish milk toast and it seemed even more apt that I make it to soothe the soul after a eating spree. I may well revisit the cornbread version at some point as I think it would suit the soft texture beautifully. I made mine traditional apart from the twist of a sprinkle of cardamom that lifted it from bland to fortifying. Whatever you call it, don’t miss the chance to make it as a simple supper or a warming breakfast instead of porridge.
Panada (serves 1)
- 1 thick slice of white bread, cubed
- 180ml boiling water
- 50ml milk
- 1 pod green cardamom, seeds bruised
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
- 3 teaspoons caster sugar
The most important thing about this dish is to use decent bread. Don’t use the kind of white sliced Kingsmill or Hovis make or it will turn into paste. Even the kind of unsliced white batch you get in supermarket bakery counters is much better, but if you have some sourdough, that would be ideal. I used the leftover heel of the slow cooker bread I made.
Cube the bread into 1/2 inch pieces and in a heatproof bowl, pour the boiling water over it. Allow to sit and absorb the water for about 2-3 minutes. Don’t stir or agitate it, just allow it to soak up the water and plump up gently.
While the bread is soaking, warm the milk, vanilla and cardamom seeds together until the milk is just about to bowl. Remove from the heat. Check the bread and drain off any excess water using a potato masher. Pour the piping hot milk over the bread and scatter with the sugar and nutmeg. Serve immediately as the sugar remains slightly crunchy and enjoy the taste and texture of childhood again. Although I suspect it make an excellent hangover cure if you’ve been being very adult….