So you purchased that perfect olive loaf from La Brea Bakery, and while it made superb sandwiches over the past week, there’s still a half loaf leftover that’s beginning to stale. Or perhaps that artisanal baguette from that independent French bakery down the street has gone stale after several days.
What do you do with all of that stale bread? You could simply tear up the bread and feed the pieces to the neighborhood fowl like my neighbor down the street. Of course, that simply trains wildlife to be dependent on human contact for their daily sustenance. And propagating invasive bird species is definitely a risky proposition with the rise in H5, H7 and H9 avian influenza.
The Simplest Repurposing
Instead, you could grab that original kitchen appliance that hasn’t been doomed to the dreaded kitchen appliance graveyard, the toaster. I mean, the toaster’s main job is to bring stale bread back to life by converting a chalky, dry piece of bread by hastening moisture loss and creating a crispy, desirable piece of toasted bread via the Maillard reaction. In fact, sometimes I enjoy a golden browned piece of toast even more than fresh bread straight from the oven.
You could also take several pieces of toasted bread and run them in your food processor to create homemade breadcrumbs. Running stale bread through the food processor also creates breadcrumbs, but I find that the moisture level of stale bread still allows even refrigerated breadcrumbs to form white, black and various hues of blue “beards,” and that toasting removes enough moisture that your refrigerated breadcrumbs usually last until you use them for meatloaf, meatballs or Romesco sauce. Plus, the caramelized surface of toast adds another flavor dimension to your culinary creation.
Savory Bread Pudding?
Most people are familiar with the concept of bread pudding, which usually entails cubes of stale bread soaked in a sweetened custard mixture consisting of milk, eggs and sugar often laced with dessert spices and fruit, then baked and served with a rich, sweet sauce. I’ve made my fair share of sweet bread pudding using baked and fried goods as diverse as stale doughnuts to Wolferman’s blueberry English muffins. And while a sweet bread pudding, especially a cinnamon-infused version using stale cinnamon rolls topped with a sweetened bourbon sauce is divine, a savory version during the main meal is just as delicious. The original version of this recipe was from Chef Edwin Goto while he was still the sous chef at the Koele Lodge (he currently runs Village Burger Waimea and Noodle Club Waimea). However, the original recipe called for two cups of heavy cream, which usually doesn’t have a place in my daily diet, so I dropped that all the way down to skim milk and substituted whole wheat bread for white bread and increased the fresh mushroom content so it’s guilt free the whole week. Though this recipe was first published in the Nichi Bei Times over 10 years ago, I think it’s worth another look …
Mushroom Bread Pudding
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 c finely diced onions
2 tbsp finely chopped garlic
4 c coarsely chopped fresh shiitake mushroom caps
4 c coarsely chopped button mushrooms
4 c coarsely chopped oyster mushroom caps
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 c skim milk
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of ground nutmeg
2 egg yolks
4 whole eggs
1 lb whole wheat bread, cut into one-half inch cubes
2 tbsp chopped parsley
Butter the bottom and sides of a two-quart shallow casserole dish with one tablespoon of butter. Sprinkle with panko, ensuring it adheres to the dish. Shake out excess panko; set dish aside.
In a large pot fitted with a lid, melt the other tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Cook onions and garlic until translucent, but do not brown. Stir in mushrooms, cover pot and cook for about five minutes, allowing mushrooms to render their liquid. Remove the lid; add thyme and rosemary. Cook uncovered, stirring frequently until all the liquid has evaporated, about five to eight minutes. Add the milk, poultry seasoning, salt, pepper, cayenne and nutmeg. Allow to reduce just before boiling and remove from heat; cool. Once the mixture is cool to the touch, add egg yolks and whole eggs; mix thoroughly. Fold in bread and parsley. Allow bread to absorb custard for about 15 minutes, mixing occasionally. Transfer custard to prepared casserole dish; bake uncovered for about 45 minutes at 350ºF. The pudding should be firm and a knife blade inserted into the middle should be clean when removed. Serves 10-12 people.
Savory bread puddings can also constitute a full, one baking pan meal if you incorporate proteins into the mixture. Since I have to refresh my “SpongeBob” sourdough starter at least every three weeks, it means I make quite a bit of sourdough focaccia. Whatever leftover focaccia I have usually is transformed into a strata. While most strata are served for breakfast due to the use of eggs and milk, along with the usual breakfast meats, my favorite strata application is my Strata Italiano highlighted in my November 23, 2017 column (https://www.nichibei.org/2017/11/the-gochiso-gourmet-the-most-wonderful-time-of-the-year), using Italian sausage, roasted red peppers and spinach. The basic recipe calls for four cups of milk, five eggs along with a protein and at least one balancing acid source (pickles, mustard, tomatoes, etc).
Or Bread Salad?
This Old World repurposing of old bread hails from Italy, where panzanella or bread salad converts stale bread into a delicious salad. Basically, cubed pieces of stale bread are tossed with fresh vegetables to create a great side for savory proteins as the vinaigrette tossed in the panzanella refreshes the palate between bits of richer protein dishes. And once again, a version of this recipe first appeared in the Nichi Bei Times well over a decade ago, but since we’re heading closer to summer when grills re-emerge from their winter slumber, it seemed appropriate to repost.
Grilled Veggie Panzanella
2 zucchini quartered lengthwise
1 large red onion sliced in 1 inch slices with rings kept intact
1 green, red, orange and yellow bell pepper, seeded then quartered lengthwise
1 lb fresh cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup light olive oil or canola oil
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
Salt and fresh black pepper to taste
1 two foot long whole wheat baguette, split lengthwise and cut roughly 1 inch cubes
(make sure bread is stale, the bread can be rock hard). Place in large mixing bowl.
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp canola oil
About 20 pitted Kalamata or Nicoise olives, roughly chopped
1 small clove garlic finely chopped
1 tbsp rinsed, drained and roughly chopped capers
Fresh black pepper
Julienne fresh basil, about 1/4 cup
Place veggies in a plastic bag with oil, Italian seasoning and salt and black pepper. Grill veggies except tomatoes on a very hot grill until grill marks appear — don’t overcook veggies, they should still be a little firm. When veggies are done, roughly chop into one inch pieces — mushrooms can be whole, halved or quartered depending on size — then place all veggies over stale bread cubes (along with juices from veggies) then cover mixing bowl with shrink wrap. The residual heat, veggie juices and steam will penetrate and soften and flavor the stale bread. Mix next seven ingredients into a vinaigrette and pour over bread/veggie mixture. Toss with the strips of fresh basil. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
So wasting your stale bread is for the birds. No, it’s not! It’s meant to repurpose for delicious side courses and main dishes. Remember that old proverb: Waste not, want not.
The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at email@example.com.