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When I was younger, I bought a box of croutons and after tasting them, never repeated that action – but I have since been subjected to store-bought croutons over and over at friend’s houses and events. I have to admit, it’s nice to have that little crunch in the salad but it can be so much better!

Home-made Croutons, these one are sautéed with a bit of garlic

Home-made Croutons, these one are sautéed with a bit of garlic

Croutons take just minutes to make:  use a left over bread, olive oil, a little garlic if you’d like, a few herbs, maybe a sprinkle of cheese – they cost only pennies and taste AMAZING. Why would anyone want to pay more for a packaged variety once they know how quick and easy it is to make them?

One note on these recipes: If you’re like me, you’ll look at the amount of oil and think it’s too much – and you’ll cut it back. Having made these for years, I can absolutely attest that you’ll realize, if you’ve cut back, it’s not enough – and then you’ll be adding in more. The danger here is that you may actually add more than if you’ve just used the recommended amount, especially when frying. If not coated properly at first with oil, these little croutons will just suck up more and more.

There are two methods:

  • Pan Frying – requires a little more attention and the croutons absorb more oil but taste the best, in my opinion. They are crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside – something that always appeals to me.
  • Oven Method – uses less oil, and doesn’t have to be watched as intensely. These turn out hard and crisp, a little more like store-bought.

Storage:  Homemade croutons, stored in a plastic container or a plastic bag, last up to two weeks unrefrigerated. The baked seem to store a bit better, and the sautéed ones last just a few days. Don’t worry, though, about storage – they’re always gone way before then!  Plus, you can make as few or as many as you’d like.

Size:  For either method:  Cut bread into cubes or rectangles – just stack and slice.  Anywhere from a half-inch to an inch or so is a great size, so go petite or large – it’s up to you. The larger ones tend to give a softer interior, and smaller ones easily crisp all the way through.

Have your ingredients ready:

  • Oil:  I prefer to use olive oil, but any oil to your taste is fine.
  • Herbs:  Good herb choices are basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, parsley or chives. Garlic powder may be used.
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Other seasonings: Just about any powdered spices could be added to croutons – cayenne, smoked paprika, any flavor profile one might like.
  • Cheese:  Any hard cheese is a good choice, so don’t feel limited to just Parmesan.
Home-made Croutons - these are baked with just a bit of Parmesan

Home-made Croutons – these are baked with just a bit of Parmesan

Sautéed Croutons

  • 3 cups of cut up bread
  • 1/2 cup of oil, plus more if needed – I always use olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated cheese (optional)
  • Herbs of your choosing

Heat a skillet on medium heat. Add the oil and heat. Once the oil is hot, toss in the bread crumbs, immediately tossing and turning around to coat with the oil. Saute, allowing them to crisp, tossing frequently to prevent burning. When about halfway done, add the garlic. Watch like a hawk, nudging any individual croutons over onto their unbrowned side, and don’t be afraid to scoop some onto a plate if it looks like they are done, then drop any unbrowned on one side back into the skillet on that side only.

If you’re just making a few, the process goes much quicker.

The croutons darken just a bit more after being removed, and if left in the hot pan, they will continue to cook and likely burn, so remove promptly from the pan. When finished, add in a few herbs and cheese, if you’d like and toss.

If you prefer, cook a clove or two of crushed garlic as you heat your oil. Remove your garlic when it’s browned, before you add the bread.

Oven Baked Croutons:

  • 3 cups 1/2-inch cubes day-old bread
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated cheese (optional)
  • Herbs of your choosing

Preheat oven to 350° F

In a shallow baking pan toss bread with oil. Toss bread with cheese and bake in middle of oven, stirring occasionally, 8 to 15 minutes depending on size, or until golden. They may need to be turned, depending on size. Toss with herbs of your choice when pan is removed from the oven.

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my Strategies – You’ll see them all explained on the upper left tab of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied

  • Bread:  Use your heels or leftover bread of almost any type.  I often throw bits and pieces into the freezer for bread crumbs and croutons.  I do think a good sourdough or artisinal type bread (like my Crusty Bread) is really best, but it’s hard to go wrong.  If the bread is too hard to cut but is still good, just pop it in the microwave, wrapped in a damp cloth, for about 20 seconds.  Since I use what would have been tossed in a normal household, I often think of this as free. If you’ve bought a loaf to make these, the large Italian loaves are often on sale for a dollar. Three cups is about a quarter of one of those loaves.
  • Olive Oil:   My strategy for buying olive oil is to look for sales and combine with coupons.  I look for about 8 cents an ounce (a tablespoon) so cost for this recipe is about 25 cents. Save the good stuff for drizzling and finishing.  A quarter cup is about two tablespoons: 16 cents tro 35.
  • Cheese:  This is a variable here and completely optional. Your choice and your price here. If you do buy what I call “near” deli cheeses (because they are usually located by the deli,) you’ll find coupons (on the brand’s site) and on hang tags and can often pick it up reasonably. Grab those hang tags even if you aren’t planning on buying it the same day – the expiration dates are often months out, and you can wait for a sale. When the sales finally happen, there often aren’t any hang tags.  3/4 cup is about an ounce and a half, grated. Cost varies, between 40 and 70 cents.
  • Herbs: I grow herbs year round here in Minnesota – I put them in a pot and bring them inside during the winter, then take them back outside in the spring.

Put your Own Spin on It:

  • I also like to use garlic infused olive oil, but you can use plain olive oil or any other flavored olive oil you like.  Heat the 1/4 cup oil in a small sauce pan over low heat. Once the oil is warm add 2 whole cloves of garlic that have but crushed but not chopped. You want the whole so you can remove them later. Allow to sit in the warm oil over low heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and remove the garlic cloves. It can be used immediately or stored in the fridge. Warm if it solidifies by leaving on the counter or microwaving for just a few seconds.

Kitchen & Cooking Hack:

Day old bread is perfect for crumbs, stuffing, French Toast, bread pudding and so on! Never waste it. If you can’t use if fresh, freeze in a heavy bag. If it gets too hard, microwave in a clean damp towel for 30 seconds to a minute.

My Pay Off?

A really good crouton in minutes with no additives (well – that depends on the bread!) and great flavor?  I’m happy with that!

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