Why would anyone make homemade croutons when there are so many packaged varieties to buy?
For me it’s because the store-bought ones I’ve tried are oversalted, over garlicked, overgreased and hard as rocks.
And I trust my own instincts about whether my leftover bread is stale but still fresh enough to be useful rather than some commercial firm’s where they’re looking to get every penny’s worth.
Besides, croutons are incredibly easy to cook and they are so versatile and tasty you can feel like a genius after you make a batch and use them for some recipe or other. And also because you can use almost any kind of bread, any kind of cooking fat, any kind of seasoning, depending on which recipe you will be adding them to.
For example — I make basil-infused croutons for fresh tomato soup, chipotle seasoned croutons for pea soup. I prefer traditional garlic and herb croutons for Caesar Salad.
I’ve also made buttery cheese-croutons, which are wonderful as toppers for vegetable casseroles and have even stuffed some into an omelet when I was at a loss for some other ingredient. I’ve made a variety of croutons with fresh herbs to use as a bed for stirfried vegetables.
There’s no end to the possibilities.
Croutons are supposed to be the crispy, luxurious, contrasting crunch and flavor your tongue savors as it tosses around soft lettuce leaves or buttery avocado or tangy salad dressing. The hard-as-rocks kind from the package are always too distracting.
Tomato Salad with Herb-infused Croutons and Goat Cheese
4 slices 3/4-inch thick Italian bread
1-1/2 tablespoons butter
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large clove garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 ripe avocado, peeled and cut into bite size pieces
1/2 cup crumbled goat or feta cheese
1/4 cup chopped red onion
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Trim the crusts from the bread and cut the pieces into small cubes. Heat the butter and olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. When the butter has melted and looks foamy, add the garlic slices and cook for 1-2 minutes or until the garlic slices turn lightly brown. Remove and discard the garlic. Add the bread cubes, basil and thyme, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat all the pieces. Place the cubes on a cookie sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the cubes are crispy and golden. Set aside. Place the tomatoes, avocado, goat cheese, red onion and croutons and toss ingredients. In a small bowl, whisk 3 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar and pour over the salad. Toss and taste, adding more olive oil or vinegar as needed. Let rest for at least 5 minutes before serving. Makes 2-4 servings