Are you in the market for an easy, delicious, and potentially creative new way to eat bread? Meet u’ pan’ cuott’ (Bernaldese dialect for pan cotto, “cooked bread”). It’s a bread and cheese casserole from Bernalda, a town in Basilicata best known as the ancestral village of Francis Ford Coppola. This peasant dish features stale bread tossed with cheese and tomatoes and baked until the cheese melts and binds it all together. The recipe below suggests durum wheat bread, the kind you’d find in Bernalda, Matera, or Altamura, but you can use any bread that will hold together when softened with a bit of water. Also feel free to use any good melting cheese if you don’t have provolone; I love smoked scamorza or fresh mozzarella that is a few days old and has lost some of its moisture. U’ pan’ cuott’ makes a great side dish to roasted chicken.
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound day-old durum wheat bread or country loaf, torn into bite-size pieces
3 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
7 ounces provolone cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 teaspoon peperoni cruschi powder or sweet paprika
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon peperoncino or ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 475°F with a rack in the center position.
Place the bread in a colander, rinse with warm water, and set aside to soften. The bread should be moistened but not sopping wet.
In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, provolone, peperoni cruschi, garlic, oregano, peperoncino, and ¼ cup of the olive oil. Season with salt.
When the bread crusts have softened, squeeze out any excess liquid and add the bread to the bowl with the tomato mixture. Stir to combine.
Grease a baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, pour in the tomato mixture, and drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil on top. Bake until the top is heavily browned and the provolone has melted, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.
Photo: Ed Anderson
Recipe: Food of the Italian South