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things to do with stale bread 
by Yee-Fan Sun |
1 2

I could never get into the low-carb craze for one simple reason: I'm a sucker for a really good loaf of bread. My opinion of a city has been known to be highly influenced by the quality of the bread offerings available; my feelings towards my previous home, Tucson, improved a thousand-fold once I found a source for real, honest-to-goodness, artisan bread, the sort that has a proper crusty exterior and a chewy soft flavorful interior.

Sadly for me, good bakery bread doesn't have nearly the shelf life that its overly-processed supermarket cousins do. And with just two of us living in this little apartment of ours, it's rare that we can finish a whole loaf of bread before it loses its just-baked appeal. Sure, if it's just barely stale, a quick toasting will render one or two-day-old bread perfectly tasty again. Once it gets beyond that point, though, it's time to get a little more creative. Fortunately for me, it turns out that as long as you haven't let your bread go so long that it's begun to support lovely little colonies of mold, that dry, hard bread still has plenty of culinary potential.

Though I'm not a great fan of store-bought croutons, the homemade variety is another story altogether. Homemade croutons are cheap, they're easy to make, and they add a great texture and flavor to a simple green salad. To make your own croutons, preheat the oven to 325F. Meanwhile, cut up your bread into ½" or so sized cubes. Drizzle the bread cubes with olive oil, and season with a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. Toss it all up until it's well combined, then spread out the bread cubes in a big baking pan. Slide the pan into the oven, and bake until the bread is crisp and golden. This will take anywhere from 10-20 minutes, depending upon the kind of bread, how much you have crammed onto the sheet, and a whole slew of other factors; keep an eye on the croutons to make sure they don't burn, and give the pan a shake a couple of times during the baking process. If you don't feel like turning on your oven and are working with a small batch, you can also "toast" your bread cubes in a big skillet over medium heat on the stove. Basically, all you're trying to do is drive out the moisture from the bread so it gets good and crisp.

You can fancy up your croutons if you like too. Make garlic-flavored croutons by sautéing a couple fat cloves of garlic in ¼ cup of olive oil, and using some of that oil to drizzle over the bread cubes before baking (the ¼ cup will be enough for about 4 cups of bread). You can also add a sprinkling of herbs (parsley, basil, thyme, and oregano are all good), or substitute butter for the olive oil. Or go Italian with your croutons and make crostini. Leave the bread in slices rather than cubed up, and for each side, brush with olive oil, and rub a cut clove of garlic over the surface. Bake at 325F as for the croutons, turning the slices about 8 minutes through the cooking time, and bake until they're beginning to brown.

Whatever method or flavorings you've chosen, let the croutons cool once they're oven time is up, and add them to your salad. Toss croutons along with your mixed greens, slather crostini with goat cheese and use them to garnish your salad, or make the bread the main feature, as in the classic Italian dish panzanella. You can also freeze extra croutons in a plastic bag; whenever you need them, just pour the croutons onto a baking sheet, and heat in a 325F oven until they're re-crisped.

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