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Croutons: Use Your Bread

August 13, 1992|JOAN DRAKE

Homemade croutons are so superior to most commercial brands in freshness and flavor, it's worth the effort to make your own. You can also determine their size and shape--small cubes to use as a garnish on soups and casseroles, larger ones for adding flavor contrast in salads, or cut triangles, diamonds, circles, etc.

By varying the type of bread and seasonings, it's possible to create a host of distinctly flavored croutons while using up stale bread that might otherwise be discarded. Cost of the other necessary ingredients is minimal.

Store leftover bread and rolls in the freezer until you have the equivalent of five to six slices. Thaw, then use a bread knife to remove the crusts (Step 1). (Even the crusts can be used for making fresh or dried bread crumbs--instructions follow.) Cut the remaining bread into the desired size cubes (Step 2).

After melting butter with olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add minced garlic and saute about a minute. Remove the pan from the heat and add the bread cubes, stirring until they're well coated with the butter mixture (Step 3).

While the bread cubes cool slightly, combine Parmesan cheese and desired herbs and spices in a heavy plastic or paper bag. Add the bread cubes and toss to coat evenly with the cheese mixture (Step 4).

Spread the bread cubes in an even layer on an ungreased jellyroll pan and bake until lightly browned and crisp (Step 5), stirring occasionally. After cooling, place the croutons in a storage bag and freeze until needed.

To make fresh bread crumbs, tear the crust bits into tiny pieces or place in a food processor fitted with the metal blade, then pulse on and off until the crumbs are the desired size. For dried bread crumbs, place bread crusts in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet and toast in a 300-degree oven until dried and crisp. Run the bread through the fine blade of a meat grinder or place in a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse on and off until crumbs are the desired size.

Using the following crouton recipe as a guide for proportions, vary the flavors as desired.

CROUTONS

5 slices white or whole-wheat bread

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled

Remove crusts from bread. Cut remaining bread in desired-size cubes.

Melt butter with olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and saute about 1 minute.

Remove pan from heat and add bread cubes, stirring until well coated with butter mixture. Cool slightly.

Combine Parmesan, oregano and thyme in heavy plastic or paper bag. Add bread cubes and toss to coat evenly with cheese mixture.

Spread bread cubes in even layer on ungreased jellyroll pan. Bake at 300 degrees 35 to 40 minutes or until lightly browned and crisp, stirring occasionally. Cool, then place in freezer storage bag and freeze until needed. Makes about 2 cups.

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