Dried-out and delicious
Turn those stale scraps of bread into something yummy, such as panzanella
One of my kids' friends once said that she thought I was a reincarnation of an American Indian because I routinely find a use for leftovers or odd bits and trimmings that most people throw away. I took it as a compliment.
Back when most folks grew or made their own food, using everything was commonplace. Food was precious. It involved a lot of hard work, and waste was considered a sin.
Using every little scrap may have been a necessity,
but it also resulted in the creation of some wonderful dishes that are now
made just because they're so good. More milk than the family could
drink became cheese. A few bones, some parsley stems, and celery and onion
trimmings became soup or stock. Leftover rice became fried rice, and
leftover beans became refried beans. Scraps of cheese, meat, or vegetables
became fillings for ravioli, eggrolls, or any of the pantheon of stuffed
items found in every cuisine.
No other leftover food has more uses as stale bread.
Bread goes stale quickly, even these days when the supermarket stuff has
been treated to prevent spoilage. Of course, we now have freezers to keep
bread fresh as well, so making something with stale bread is as often a
choice as it is a way to use bread that would otherwise go to waste. There
are croutons, bread pudding, and bread stuffing. The French name for French
toast, pain perdu,
translates as "lost bread" — bread that would otherwise
not be eaten. English stale bread contributions include bread sauce. It
sounds weird, but it's essentially a white sauce thickened with bread
instead of flour. Like white sauce, it's wonderful when properly
made, scented with bay, onion, and nutmeg or clove; unfortunately, bad
versions of either can be disgustingly gloppy. The English also make a
wonderful uncooked dessert with stale bread, summer pudding. It consists
simply of a bowl lined with thinly sliced, lightly buttered bread
that's filled with more slices of bread layered with sweetened,
lightly crushed berries. It's weighted, and the berries' juices
soak into the bread; unmolded, it's as beautiful as it is delicious.
Another favorite summertime stale-bread dish is
panzanella, Italian bread-and-tomato salad. It's something I make
every summer, whether I have stale bread on hand or have to deliberately
leave some bread out for a few hours.
Contact Julianne Glatz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are probably as many versions of this salad as there are cooks who make it. It's a classic way to use stale bread. Tomatoes, onion, basil, red-wine vinegar, and olive oil are the other ingredients always included in panzanella in Italy. Some cooks soak the bread in water and then squeeze it out, others sprinkle the bread with water, and still others let the tomatoes' juices do the job. The choice at least partially depends on the degree of staleness. The proportions also vary widely, as do other additions: Cucumber is the most common, but all sorts of other ingredients appear, from celery to olives to anchovies. The additional ingredients should be used sparingly so that they don't overwhelm the primary flavors. Use the following recipe as a guide, not something to which you must strictly adhere, both in terms of ingredients and proportions — a leftover hard roll and a single luscious ripe tomato could be the basis for panzanella for one or two people. Like many of the best and simplest recipes, the quality of the ingredients is crucial — this is a recipe to make only when you have wonderful tomatoes and good bread.
1/2 pound stale country bread (Sourdough or
French or Italian bread works well, but it shouldn't be
too dense — heavy whole-grain
breads or breads such
as pumpernickel or rye can make the dish leaden. Light
sandwich breads or breads such as
challah will be mushy
and awful. My favorite bread for panzanella is
Incredibly Delicious' pepper Parmesan loaf.)
Approximately 1 cup water or juices from the tomatoes
2 cups seeded tomatoes, cut into bite-size chunks, peeled
or not according to preference
1 cup thinly sliced red onion, loosely packed
1/4 cup extravirgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
(more or less to taste)
1/2 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Additional ingredients (optional): thinly sliced seeded cucumber, minced garlic (add to the vinaigrette), pitted black or green olives, thinly sliced celery, scallions (instead of the onion), anchovies, parsley (instead of or in addition to the basil), crumbled feta or shaved Parmesan or Asiago (not traditional but very good)
Tear the bread into bite-sized pieces and place them
in a large bowl. Toss the bread with the water or tomato juices and let it
stand for about half an hour. You may need more or less bread, depending on
its staleness. The water should be absorbed by the bread. If it still seems
dry, add a little more water. While the bread is standing, dissolve 2
tablespoons salt in a bowl of water and add the sliced onion. After 30
minutes, rinse the onions under cold running water and squeeze to remove
excess moisture. Add the onion, tomatoes, and any other ingredients to the
bowl of bread.
Rinse the onions under cold running water and squeeze them to remove excess moisture. Add the onion, tomatoes, and any other ingredients to the bowl. Whisk together the oil, vinegar, and half of the basil, then drizzle the mixture over the contents of the bowl. Toss the ingredients gently but thoroughly. You can serve the panzanella immediately, but it is best to let it stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour to let the flavors mingle. Either way, sprinkle the remaining basil over the top just before serving. Serves four to eight.