When great sourdough bread goes from soft to stale, it’s time for breadcrumbs and croutons. Beyond a wheaty flavor and crispy crunch, the sour tang and fermented flavor packs a deep, umami savoriness that can enhance everything from soups, pastas and salads to main-course scrambled eggs.
To make breadcrumbs from stale but still pliable bread, tear it into 1-inch cubes and pulse in a food processor until uniform. If the bread is too hard and gets stuck on the blade, use the shredder attachment, pushing broken bread pieces down the feedtube (the large holes of a box grater also work). These breadcrumbs will store indefinitely in an airtight container and have a good deal more flavor than store-bought.
In Italy, frugal southern cooks use seasoned breadcrumbs crisped in fruity olive oil (pangrattato) to top pasta as a crunchy—and cheap—alternative to Parmesan or pecorino cheese. In, Spain, there’s migas: scrambled eggs enriched with crispy breadcrumbs, chorizo, vegetables and a dusting of paprika. Or picada, a crunchy mix of crumbs, nuts, garlic and herbs stirred into soups, stews or salads. Try our Kale Salad with Smoked Almonds and Picada Crumbs.
If the bread is rock hard, make coarse, crunchy croutons (what the French call chapons). Submerge in hot water until tender, then squeeze out as much moisture as possible and break into ragged, bite-size pieces (don’t oversoak, which will turn the bread to mush). Toss with plenty of olive oil, coarse salt and pepper, then bake on a sheet pan in a 375°F oven, stirring and scraping occasionally, until browned and crisp, 15 to 25 minutes (depending on bread variety and moistness). Add these to soups, stews or salads—like our Skirt Steak Salad with Arugula and Peppadews.
Stale pita bread also can be repurposed. Levantine cooks make fatteh, a broad category of hearty salads of seasoned, crisped pita bread pieces layered with meats, beans, vegetables or leafy greens and doused with a garlicky yogurt sauce (fattoush salad is the most common variety of fatteh). It’s an addictive dish adaptable to whatever you have on hand.
How to Use
Consider this a base recipe to adapt with what you have on hand. Shredded chicken, sliced steak or cooked shrimp, thin-sliced crunchy vegetables such as radishes, shaved raw zucchini, fennel or juicy grapes all are terrific additions.
Heat the oven to 400°F with a rack in the middle position. On a rimmed baking sheet, brush both sides of two 8-inch pita rounds with 2 tablespoons olive oil, then sprinkle evenly with 2 teaspoons ground cumin. Bake until browned and crisp, about 10 minutes total, flipping once halfway through. Cool to room temperature. While the pita cools, in a small bowl, whisk together 1 cup yogurt, ¼ cup tahini, 2 grated garlic cloves, the zest and juice of 1 lemon, ½ teaspoon kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper; set aside. In a medium microwave-safe bowl, toss two 15½-ounce cans chickpeas (drained and rinsed) and 3 tablespoons of the liquid from the can with 2 teaspoons za'atar and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and microwave on high until hot, 3 to 3½ minutes, stirring once halfway through. Break the cooled pita into bite-size pieces and place in a shallow serving bowl. Using a slotted spoon, arrange the warm chickpeas on top. Spoon on the yogurt mixture, then top with 1½ cups chopped fresh mint, parsley, dill (or combination), ⅓ cup toasted pine nuts or pistachios and a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
We learned this soup with croutons from José Andrés. If you like, add blanched greens to turn it into a one-pot meal.
In a medium saucepan over medium-low, combine the chopped whites of 1 bunch of scallions and 6 garlic cloves with 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to color, 8 to 10 minutes. Add 4 teaspoons sweet paprika and 1½ teaspoon smoked paprika; cook, stirring, until fragrant and darkened, 30 seconds. Add 1 cup of hearty, rustic-style bread cubes and stir well. Whisk in 6 cups of chicken broth, increase heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Reduce to medium-low and simmer, whisking occasionally to break up the bread, for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a 12-inch skillet over medium, combine another 3 tablespoons olive oil, 3 more cups cubed bread, the scallion greens (chopped), and ½ teaspoon each kosher salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk 4 egg yolks. Slowly whisk in 1 cup of the hot broth. Remove the soup from the heat, then vigorously whisk the egg yolks into the soup, followed by 1 to 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve topped with the croutons
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