Wasted food is one of the unfortunate facts of our modern lives (a recent study says that we toss between 30% and 50% of all food produced). We overbuy, we eat out on nights when we had planned to cook, and we let leftovers wither away into slimy puddles in the back of the fridge. For our planet to survive and thrive, we need to curb this waste.
While there are grand, systemic changes that need to occur to truly rectify this issue, there’s also a lot that we can do at home to reduce the amount of food that ends up in landfills. To my mind, the most important thing to do is to start seeing our aging and leftover food from a transformational perspective.
Leftovers from dinner can be scrambled into eggs for breakfast. The last bits of cheese can be blended into a pleasing spread the French call fromage fort. And then there’s stale bread. From use as a soup thickener, to bread puddings and panades to breadcrumbs, it can do almost anything.
My favorite way to manage my elderly bread is to make croutons. If you’ve never had homemade croutons, know first that they are a world away from those horrid, flavorless cubes that you find on buffets and in salad kits. They can be made from any bread (even old sandwich bread or hot dog buns work). You can customize their flavor to marry well with any dish you’re making. And they can enliven soups, salads and casseroles (small croutons can be used as a crunchy topping).
Around my house, we tend to go in for a garlic-herb crouton. It sounds fancy, but all I do is make a paste of garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, and olive oil and then rub it into the small chunks of stale bread. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet, they toast slowly until the edges brown and the interior of the cubes have given up the last of their moisture. This way, they keep longer and give the best possible crunch.
Once you develop a crouton making habit, you’ll discover all sorts of different ways to flavor and use them (consider making a lightly sweetened cinnamon crouton to eat with milk in place of cereal). You’ll stretch your grocery budget and keep food out of the trash can.
How do you use up old bread?
Garlic Herb Croutons
- 5 to 6 cups 1-inch stale bread cubes
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350°F. Arrange bread cubes on a large rimmed baking sheet.
Pour olive oil into a 1-cup measuring cup. Set aside.
On a large cutting board, smash garlic cloves, remove peels, and mince. Once you have a rough chop, place the parsley on the board and chop it into the garlic until you have a fairly uniform paste. Add salt and pepper and chop it into the garlic and parsley paste.
Scrape garlic and parsley paste into the olive oil and whisk to combine. Pour over bread cubes. Toss cubes with the seasoned olive oil until they are well coated.
Place baking sheet into the preheated oven and toast, stirring once every ten minutes, until the cubes are deep, golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes.
Let the croutons cool completely. Store them in airtight container for up to five days. If they soften during storage, simply toast them in a dry skillet for a minute or two prior to serving.
Roasted Garlic Soup
- 3 heads garlic, unpeeled
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 1 head garlic, separated and peeled
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cups beef broth
- 1/2 cup half and half
- 12 to 15 Garlic Herb Croutons
- 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 350°F. Carefully slice off the tops of the heads of garlic, so that the tips of cloves are exposed. Place the garlic heads in a small baking dish (glass or ceramic is best) and drizzle with olive oil. Cover with foil and bake for 55-60 minutes, until garlic is tender and fragrant.
In a Dutch oven or soup pot, melt butter and olive oil together over medium heat. Add sliced onions, raw garlic cloves, thyme leaves, salt and pepper and cook until the onions soften and slump, about 10 minutes.
Add beef broth and stir to combine. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until the garlic and onions have begun to melt into the broth. Squeeze roasted garlic into soup pot.
Carefully transfer soup to a blender or liquid-tight food processor. Blend until smooth. Stir in half and half. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
To serve, ladle soup into bowls. Float 3 to 4 croutons in each bowl. Serve hot, with lemon slices available for squeezing.
Butter Lemon and Persimmon Salad
- 1 head butter lettuce
- 2 Fuyu persimmons, cut in slices
- 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 cup Garlic Herb Croutons
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Pinch freshly ground black pepper
Wash and dry lettuce leaves. Tear into bite sized pieces and place in a large salad bowl.
Top prepared lettuce with persimmon slices, red onion and croutons.
Just prior to serving, combine olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, salt and pepper in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake until well combined. Drizzle over salad and toss well to coat.