Thursday, 1 July 2010

Little Bits of Loveliness

Crôutons can really add an extra dimension to a main course salad.  If, and when, you have a moment and feel like doing a little extra cooking, you could do worse than making a batch of crôutons instead of buying little bags of tiny, over-priced and over-seasoned, rock-hard bullets. They are easy and the flavourings (if any) can be varied to suit your palate or the sort of salads you like to make.  If they are well dried out in the oven they will keep really well in an airtight container, ready for you to fling into salads, soups or even pasta dishes (!) whenever the fancy takes you. 


100g white bread, crust cut off and cubed
2 tbsp olive oil  
flavourings (and see below)

Dry the cubes of bread out, a little, in a very low oven (less than 100°c), but don't let them colour.  Cool.  Meanwhile, whisk the oil and flavourings together in a large bowl. Drop the bread cubes in (all in one go) and stir until they are evenly coated-ish. Tip onto a baking tray and return to the oven to bake, slowly, for another 10-15 minutes, depending on your oven. You will be able to tell, from the delicious smell, when they are ready.  Indeed, the smell will also tell you when they are burnt, so be alert.... Let them cool completely before using or storing, as this will retain the crunch.

As for flavourings, I mostly make my crôutons with smoked paprika, with cracked black pepper or with garlic and herbs. A pinch of salt helps bring the flavours together in every case except for my cheesy croutons (which are usually eaten with tomato soup), which I make using some grated parmesan mixed in after the oil and a little garlic.

Incidentally, one possible word of warning though.  I cannot, and will not, countenance the use of crôutons as a 'nibble' under any circumstances. I was shocked recently, to be offered a dish of mixed olives (fine, lovely), a single, whole, pickled artichoke heart (hmm...) and some clearly industrially-prepared-and-bagged crôutons masquerading as 'tapas' in a pretentious bar.  Okaaaay... rant over.

Cath xx

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