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Panada is a soup made primarily of cubes of crusty or stale bread that are moistened with broth. It is a common dish that is served in traditional Italian cuisine. Although it was historically a dish made by peasants, it is often updated by chefs using more modern ingredients to create upscale versions.
Bread-based soups were a common peasant food because bread cubes could be used as a way to stretch leftover food items and prevent waste. Small amounts of vegetables, cheeses, meats, or other ingredients that were not enough to make another full side dish or entrée on their own could be mixed together with broth and bread to make a soup that was filling enough to be served as a main dish. This helped ensure no foods were unnecessarily thrown away, especially when food supplies were limited.
One of the main ingredients for panada soup is crusty bread. Since the bread is cut up into cubes before being added to broth, it needs to be sturdy and hard or it will become too soggy and fall apart in the soup instead of keeping its shape and simply softening. Stale bread was typically used for the soup since it was already hard. Ciabatta, focaccia, and other thick Italian white breads tend to be the most common bread varieties used for the soup.
Panada ingredients also traditionally include a broth or other liquid. Beef broth is a common variety, but chicken or vegetable broths can also be used, in addition to milk, wine, water, or a combination of the liquids. The broth and bread are generally flavored with Italian cheese to add more flavor to the dish. Parmigiano Reggiano, a strong flavored Italian hard cheese, is the cheese usually used for the soup because just a small amount is often enough to flavor the soup. Any leftover produce, such as zucchini, green beans, or tomatoes, can be added into the soup, as well as heavy cream or eggs to thicken the broth.
The process of preparing panada soup begins with chopping the crusty or stale bread into thick cubes or chunks. All of the preferred vegetables and other flavoring ingredients are chopped into pieces and added to a large soup pot and covered with broth, milk, wine, or water. The soup is then heated to a light boil and allowed to simmer for at least 20 minutes to allow the vegetables to cook through; however, the longer the soup simmers, the richer the flavor will be so some cooks will simmer the soup for as long as possible. The bread cubes are generally added into the simmering soup about 10 minutes before servings to just moisten them without overcooking them and making them fall apart.