Croutons are smile inducers. Set a plain dinner salad in front of someone, and they might thank you for making sure they get their daily intake of veggies. Give ‘em a salad with croutons, and they’ll start finger-picking the cubes out of the bowl right quick.
This past spring, I stayed with my widowed aunt for a few days after the sudden death of my uncle, her husband of more than 50 years. I was there for moral support and didn’t have much to do, so I put myself to care for her the only way I knew how: cooking. There were loaves upon loaves of Italian bread left over from the funeral reception. I didn’t want them to go to waste, so I baked up a few batches of crunchy croutons. I cut the dry bread into hefty squares then coated them in a liberal amount of olive oil and an Italian spice blend I scrounged up from her pantry.
They were the star for the salads-as-mains that we enjoyed for lunches and dinners. They were our afternoon snack, paired with fancy cheese. Croutons aren’t typically called comfort food, but those grieving days, croutons were our crutches.
It’s easy enough to buy a box of croutons, but making them yourself is ridiculously simple. And if you think outside the box, you realize that more than day-old bread is a crouton contender.
Potato peel “croutons” is one for the frugal cook looking to turn kitchen waste into something yummy. It’s one of numerous creative recipes in “Eat It Up!,” a no-waste cookbook by Sherri Brooks Vinton.
Tortilla Croutons are something that Atlanta chef Eddie Hernandez of Taquería del Sol regularly pulls out of his back pocket. The clever recipe, which he shares in his new cookbook, “Turnip Greens & Tortillas,” sees flour tortillas stacked together, married through a quick egg wash, then cut into squares and fried. Hernandez recently served me these golden crouton impersonators atop a lettuce salad with a Mexican Ranch dressing. Of course, they made me smile.
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