This might seem like an unusual dish, a pasticciata (a layered casserole) of bread and cheese that’s baked, cut into portions, and served in a bowl of hot broth. Yet the tastes and eating pleasure of seuppa ou piat will be completely familiar and welcome to anyone who loves the gratinéed crouton of French onion soup or enjoys a crispy grilled-cheese sandwich with a bowl of rich chicken broth alongside. This is a good dish for company, because you can have both the broth and the pasticciata hot and ready to be put together when your guests come. (Chicken stock is my preference, but a savory vegetable stock or a meaty beef broth is just as good.)
- 8 cups tasty chicken broth (or clear beef or vegetable stock)
- kosher salt to taste
- 1 tablespoon soft butter for the baking dish
- 1/2 pound fontina from Valle d'Aosta
- 1 cup freshly grated Grana Padano, plus more for passing
- 18 slices Italian bread, cut 1/2 inch thick from a long oval loaf, left out to dry overnight
Recommended Equipment: You will need a baking dish or oval gratin dish, 3 quarts or larger; heavy aluminum foil.
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven, and heat to 400 degrees. Heat the broth almost to a simmer-season with salt to taste-and keep it hot. Butter the sides and bottom of the baking dish. Shred the fontina through the larger holes of a hand grater and toss the shreds with the grana (grated hard cheese).
Arrange half of the bread slices in one layer in the baking dish. Ladle out 1 cup of broth, and drizzle it on the bread slices, slightly moistening them all. Sprinkle half of the cheese on top of the bread in an even layer. Cover the cheese with the remaining bread slices, filling the entire surface of the dish. Moisten these slices with another cup or so of stock; top the bread with all the remaining cheese, scattered evenly.
Tent the pasticciata with a sheet of heavy aluminum foil, arching it so it doesn’t touch the cheese topping, and pressing it against the sides of the baking dish. Set the dish in the oven, and bake until heated through, about 25 minutes. Remove the foil, and continue baking for 10 minutes or more, until the top is golden brown and bubbly. Take the dish from the oven, and let it cool and set for 5 minutes or so.
To serve: Cut out large squares of pasticciata and, with a spatula, transfer them to warm shallow soup or pasta bowls. Ladle a cup of hot broth over each portion and serve immediately, passing more grated cheese at the table.
*Country Italian bread is best for this pasticciata. The width of the bread can vary since it is layered snuggly in the baking dish then cut in squares when served.