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Friday, May 14, 2010

Make It Yourself: Croutons

Does anybody really like store-bought croutons, those overpriced, throat-scorching little cubes of processed nastiness that taste only of salt and have an ingredient list as long as your little finger? Okay, that's a little judgmental. But the fact is, homemade croutons are so easy and economical that once you get into the habit of making your own, you will forget all about the kind on the supermarket shelf.

All you need is some bread. Fresh bread works fine, but we like to use stale leftover heels. By stale we mean anything from two days old to rock-hard. Any type of bread will do. White bread, wheat bread, pita bread—anything nonsweet works (though if you want cinnamon-raisin croutons in your caesar salad, go for it).

Cut or tear the bread to the desired size. For salads, we like roughly one-inch cubes that will stand up to crunchy greens and a strong dressing.

Put a skillet on medium high heat and add a little olive oil. You don't need much, just a couple of tablespoons for about two cups of croutons. Once the oil is hot, toss in your bread and, using two spoons, keep tossing it to spread around the oil. Then let it cook, tossing again every few minutes to avoid scorching.

When the cubes are beginning to brown, add salt, pepper, and anything else you like. Chopped garlic is good. So are thyme or sage—dried or fresh. Last night we put smoked paprika on whole-wheat pita croutons, and it tasted great. Let the croutons cook for a few more minutes, until they are golden. That's it.

Leftover croutons will last a couple of days, but we've found that we rarely have leftovers.

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