All of the talk last week about the importance of cooking from scratch put me in the mood to write about cooking again. This time I am going to focus on what to do with stale or excess bread. As I mentioned in a previous post, each of the pantries where I volunteer gets bread donated from large retailers who have pulled the bread from sale in their establishments. By bread I do not mean sliced bread for sandwiches, but loaves of bread, like French or Italian bread. These donations come in once a week. Sometimes they are barely enough to distribute to all the clients, but other times they are bountiful. When the donations are large, excess bread is kept in the freezer or refrigerator. When the current week’s bread arrives, any remaining from the previous week must be discarded to make space. A couple of weeks ago I happen to be volunteering when a large bag of bread was brought out to be discarded. It bothered me to see perfectly good, albeit stale, bread being thrown away. I decided to take it, with the idea of finding uses for it.
As I started going through my cookbooks looking for recipes using bread I came across the sentence I used for my title in a cookbook by Alice Waters. Boy was she right! Here are some of the uses for stale bread that I found. The first use for stale bread that immediately came to mind was bread pudding. My mother made this dessert quite a bit when I was growing up. While I was familiar with bread pudding as a dessert, I also discovered recipes for savory bread puddings that can be used as a side dish for dinner. Like adding raisins or other fruit to a dessert bread pudding, the savory bread pudding can be made with vegetable add ins, like winter squash, roasted peppers or eggplant. Sticking with side dishes, a great use for stale bread in the summer when tomatoes and fresh basil are plentiful and flavorful is Panzanella, an Italian bread salad. Fattoush, a Lebanese bread salad, is also good in the summer. It is usually made with pita bread, but I have substituted a cubed sturdy loaf bread in place of the pita bread and it worked just fine.
Stale loaf bread lends itself to breakfast casseroles as well. My kids love a baked French toast casserole I make or you could just slice the bread and make individual slices of French toast. Additionally, there are numerous variations on the breakfast strata, which is a layered breakfast casserole consisting mainly of eggs, bread and cheese. To those main ingredients you can add any of the breakfast meats and/or vegetables like spinach, peppers or mushrooms. The great thing about most of these breakfast casseroles is that they can be assembled the night before and would just need to be cooked in the morning. The strata I make the most calls for ham, which is a great use for leftover ham as well. I think stratas make a great breakfast-for-dinner meal too, add on a salad or better yet, make the strata with some spinach for a one dish meal!
The recipes I have discussed so far are dishes using bread, but stale bread can be transformed into other things to be used in recipes. Homemade croutons are a good use for stale bread. Just cube the bread up, toss it with some oil (preferably olive oil) and herbs or garlic, and bake until the bread has dried out. Croutons can be tossed in a salad or served in a soup. Similarly, you can make homemade bread crumbs too. Finally, I have made toasts for snacking. This is particularly good if you have a baguette, as the slices are the perfect size. I mix together spices and olive oil, then brush it on the thinly sliced baguette and bake until the slices are crunchy. The ones I make have a spicy mixture of spices on them, but I have often wanted to try ones with a mixture of Italian spices and maybe some cheese. Finally, bread, wrapped well, can be frozen for up to 3 months, so if you have the ability to freeze it for a later use that is always an option too.
I did not make all these recipes with the bag of bread I brought home, but I have made a version of every recipe I mentioned, sometimes with fresh bread, but most often with stale bread which usually works better. Although not the recipes I used, I have included links to recipes for a couple of dishes I mentioned to give an idea of what the dish is like. One thing did concern me as I was reading over recipes, particularly the ones for casseroles. Most of those recipes called for several eggs and a good deal of milk, or even cream. These ingredients are often precious to people who are struggling to make food last as long as it can. In discussing making bread pudding with my mother she mentioned she sometimes makes her grandmother’s recipe. I knew from stories my mother had shared about lean times during her childhood, that this recipe would be a simple one yet would still taste good. I asked my mother for the recipe and sure enough it uses less eggs, a bit less sugar and omits the vanilla all together, while still being tasty. I have included this recipe below. Thanks Granny, both of you!
Granny’s Bread Pudding
- 3 cups bread torn into bite sized pieces
- 2 cups milk
- 3/4 cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- optional ingredients include 1/2 cup of raisins, blueberries or chocolate chips or a sliced banana
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix bread and milk together and let sit for 15 minutes. Mix together slightly beaten eggs, sugar and cinnamon. Add this mixture to the bread/milk mixture and stir. Add any optional ingredients and stir. Turn into an 8x8x2 inch baking dish and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.