I am asked this question frequently when one looks at my Instagram feed: you bake so often what do you do with all of the sourdough bread that’s leftover? The truth is the majority of my bread gets eaten by my family and I (especially the host of “experimental” loaves), or I baked the bread for friends or perhaps an upcoming gathering at my house. And in the dire case as a loaf starts to sneak toward the end of its lifespan I always find a creative way to work it into another meal for dinner. This post is one way in which stale, aging bread can be transformed into something used to heighten other dishes around the kitchen — an incredibly easy way to further utilize bread made at home and it certainly ensures there’s hardly ever anything going to waste.
I treat both croutons and breadcrumbs essentially the same way: croutons are larger pieces of toasted bread with herbs, butter and/or olive oil while breadcrumbs are those same croutons rolled out (or processed in a food processor) to a fine degree. The uses for each of these are endless in the kitchen and they are tremendously easy to make; you won’t find my freezer without a container of breadcrumbs which are an easy way to elevate a plate of pasta. Additionally, croutons don’t have to be relegated to the perfect little squares we might first associate with, in fact, they don’t even have to be a topping but can instead be the vessel. Bruschetta is essentially a large crouton that can be topped with a myriad of things and served as an appetizer (or even a full meal if the toppings are hearty enough). When I have a group of friends over for dinner you’ll often find a plate of bruschetta at the table with a drizzle of olive oil, a smear of garlic, diced tomatoes, and torn basil (when in season, of course).
With the holidays approaching, and my last chance to pick the remaining bits of my fresh herbs passing several weeks ago, I decided to make a batch of croutons and breadcrumbs. My secret weapon for Thanksgiving dinner is to use these delectable croutons to transform a simple salad into something much more; a chance to surprise those who might otherwise pass on a bowl of greens. If you’re used to pre-made and packaged croutons on your salad you’re in for a real showstopper when you whip up your own — not only is the flavor outstanding but it no longer becomes a simple accessory to your salad: it becomes a vital ingredient that shares the stage with everything else. Once you make your own croutons you’ll find yourself always having a bag of these, and container of breadcrumbs, on hand.
Leftover Sourdough Croutons and Breadcrumbs Recipe
I almost feel strange posting this as a “recipe” because it’s incredibly simple. Instead, I hope this post serves more as a reminder for just how much versatility can be squeezed out of a single loaf of home-baked sourdough. These two simple techniques open up an entire line of uses for bread in the kitchen.
There are so many ways to make croutons & breadcrumbs but this is my go-to method that produces a super crunchy and crispy result. I like to pan fry the torn pieces of sourdough but the pieces could also be baked in a single layer on a baking sheet in the oven (I’d bake them at 375ºF until golden brown). I preheat my Lodge carbon steel skillet until it’s super hot, toss in a little extra virgin olive oil, sometimes a small pad of butter with the oil, and then the chunks of sourdough. Don’t crowd the pan too much, you want them to be able to lie flat in a single layer for maximum toasting. For the ingredients in this recipe, I did two batches in my skillet.
Leftover Sourdough Bread: Croutons and Breadcrumbs
- Several slices of leftover sourdough bread (if not stale, preferably left out overnight to get a little firm), torn irregularly
- 1.5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil for every cup torn bread
- Handful of dried or fresh herbs (thyme, marjoram, rosemary etc.)
Tear sourdough bread into irregular, but uniform, pieces as large as you prefer (I like around 1-1.5 inches) and place into a mixing bowl. Pour olive oil over the bread with a couple pinches of salt and the herbs. Mix well. At this point taste one of them to see if it’s seasoned well enough, adjust salt and herbs as necessary.
Heat a dry skillet over medium-high until quite hot and add enough of the torn bread mixture to make a single layer in the pan, working in several batches if necessary to avoid crowding. Let the bread pieces sit for a few minutes until they start to sear then stir occasionally. Watch them in the pan as they can quickly burn.
Once all pieces are well-cooked transfer to a bowl lined with paper towels to cool. Try not to eat any, I challenge you.
Once the croutons are cool use a large rolling pin to smash them and roll out to a fine consistency. This is a messy task by hand with a rolling pin and the croutons could be placed under plastic to help keep the crumbs on the table. Alternatively, pulse them in a food processor until all the pieces are the same size. If the breadcrumbs are to be used simply as a finishing touch, like for a soup, it’s nice to have crumbs that are of varying sizes. If the breadcrumbs are to be used for breading fish or anything else, ensure they are ground down to a consistent, fine degree so they evenly coat whatever is being fried (food processor method is preferred).
Breadcrumbs keep well stored in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer.
What other things do you make in your kitchen with leftover, possibly stale, bread?
Happy holidays and Buon appetito!