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Stale bread

"Stale bread can be very useful, so it is foolish to waste it" James Beard What do you do with leftover doughy things that have become as hard as cobbler's nails in the breadbox or fridge? I'm not just referring to the last three slices from the daily l

“Stale bread can be very useful, so it is foolish to waste it”

James Beard

What do you do with leftover doughy things that have become as hard as cobbler’s nails in the breadbox or fridge? I’m not just referring to the last three slices from the daily loaf, but also the bagel, the pita, challah, the coffee cake, or banana bread. Toss it to the birds, throw it in the rubbish or, at some nod to salvaging, crush it into crumbs?

Wonderful things come from leftover bread (and its floury ilk.) Challah (braided egg bread), coffee cake or panettone and banana bread, or other fruit breads, make wicked French toast.

Grilled stale baguette, topped with tapenade (olive-and-caper spread) or rubbed with olive oil, garlic clove and a halved tomato until the juices are heavenly snacks an appies. Great “chips” or melba toast are fashioned from bagels and bread, sliced thinly then baked in a 250 degree oven

I cube, bag and freeze a lot of “heels”—corn bread, garlic-and-olive (or herb) bread, baguette, wheat, whole grain and rye. Gathered all together in the company of sauteed onion, garlic, celery, sage and sausage meat (or diced bacon), the combo provides texture and flavour for a simple stuffing for poultry or pork.

Two of my favourite main-dish salads owe their deliciousness to crusty bits.

The first is Fattoush, a Lebanese salad bearing a strong likeness to Greek salad. This chunky concoction, however, relies on toasted pita (stale is ideal) and lots of fresh mint. Radish and lettuce also figure into this terrific Middle Eastern salad.

Tear roughly 2 cups romaine lettuce. Coarsely chop 2 tomatoes, half a long English cucumber, 1 green pepper, half a red onion (or to taste), and a few radishes. Rough chop 15 or so mint leaves and a handful of Italian parsley. Toast or bake 1-2 cups stale pita (NOTE: dried-out pita burns quickly, especially in the toaster). Crack the pita into pieces. Mix all ingredients together and toss lightly with classic lemon vinaigrette. (Blend and shake in a container with a tight fitting lid, 1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup olive oil, sea-salt and coarse black pepper to taste). (Traditional dressing for fattoush also calls for 1-2tbsp. of powdered sumac and a little pomegranate syrup). Crisp, clean white low-alcohol wine best suits this salad—or lemony not-too-sweet iced tea or mint tea.

The second dish, Tuscan bread salad (Panzanella) absolutely wows come August when ripe, juicy, preferably heirloom, tomatoes and fresh basil are at their peak. The salad echoes the red, white and green of the Italian Flag. For preparing off-season, I suggest campari, grape or cherry tomatoes—some yellow, some red, if possible. Larger orbs, rosy as they appear, lack flavour. Salt free, thick-sliced crusty white bread, is best for panzanella. Most methods call for soaking the bread for 10 minutes then wringing out the water. I skip this step. For me the bread gets too soggy.

Cut bread into cubes and place in an attractive serving bowl or on a large oval platter. Add tomatoes, cucumber, onions and basil. Season with olive oil and salt. Mix well and let sit. Before serving, add lemon juice or balsamic and mix again. Serve with olive oil, vinegar, and salt on the side. For a more robust dish blend in a cup of white cannelini beans or chickpeas, and a several black olives. (I prefer to soak dried legumes overnight, bring to a boil then simmer until tender-firm rather than use tinned). Partner again with crisp fresh light to moderate bodied red or white wines—Pinot grigio for or valpolicella, or simple Chianti—or a chilled lager

The Spaniards thicken gazpacho—a pureed potage of tomato, cucumber, red and/or green pepper, garlic and onion—with soaked stale bread. Again best made with top-notch veggies, it’s possible to whip up a decent gazpacho with good quality tinned tomatoes. Garnishes include croutons (from stale bread of course) and crumbled hard-cooked egg. The soup is served chilled and partners well with a thimbleful of fino sherry, or chilled dry Rosado/rose.

Suggested Wines for Fattoush, Panzanella and Gazpacho (The Liquor Corp. price list lacks a dry rose (at least I did not see one), but with roses coming on strong this year a few may start to appear

Folonari Pinot Grigio $16.85 (Panzanella, Fattoush Gazpacho)

Avelda Vinho Verde Casal Garcia $13.50 (Fattoush, Gazpacho)

Folonari Valpolicella Classico $16.40 (Panzanella)

Cecchi Chianti $15.55 (Panzanella)

Gray Monk Gamay Noir $20.40 (Panzanella, Gazpacho)

KWV Paarl Pale Dry Sherry $12.45 (Gazpacho)