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Loving Leftovers: How to Use Up Stale Bread

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

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More Than Enough

This is not a recipe, it is not a food story. It is a love story.

My parents were young adults during the Great Depression of 1929–30. Within our family, I am the youngest of six children. Our home was a modest 19th-century house badly in need of a new coat of paint. Daddy drove a well-used but reliable car to his night-shift job. Mama worked as a presser at a dry cleaning plant. Our dinners were frugal but filling. The Sunday pot roast would reappear several times during the week, often as a slice of meat on bread covered with gravy, or in a hash that was mostly potato with just a hint of beef.

For Daddy and Mama, the phrase "use it up, wear it out, make it do" was more than a catchy saying or thoughtless mantra. It was a way of life that they carried with them each and every day until the end of their lives in the latter part of the 20th century.

In my growing-up years, we were frugal long before living green was "in."

We re-used aluminum foil. We saved the heels of loaves of bread to make our own breadcrumbs. We didn't purchase oil for frying. Mom had a little pot sitting on the back of the stove into which she poured the grease that remained from frying bacon. (I still hold onto two of those three habits.)

There was no fast food, take-and-bake pizza, or meals from the Safeway deli. Daddy and Mama both worked, but with planning and organization, we had comforting meals each evening. Our house was old and drafty but warm with love.

We had little, but we had enough. More than enough.

A Loaf of Bread, a Jug of Wine, and Thou

I have carried the example of my parents into my own marriage and family, not out of poverty but out of love. With love, I create nourishing meals. With love, I shop carefully. With love, I rely on my cooking skills to feed my family rather than wasting our hard-earned money on fast-food and ready-to-eat processed food.

And with love, I plan ahead. We do not have leftovers. We have planned-overs. Nothing goes to waste. We still "use it up, wear it out, make it do."

(from "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" - illustration by Edmund Dulac)

(from "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" - illustration by Edmund Dulac)

The Recipes

Breakfast

  • Cinnamon French toast muffins (V)
  • Ham, egg, and cheese breakfast casserole

Lunch

  • Panzanella (Italian bread salad) (V)
  • Chicken soup with bread dumplings
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Dinner

  • Baked mushrooms, broken bread (V)
  • Spaghetti with toasted garlic bread crumbs (V)
  • Lablabi (chickpea and harissa soup) (V)
  • Spinach and cheese strata (V)
  • Melt-in-your-mouth meatloaf

Dessert

  • Apple pie bread pudding (V)
  • Chocolate chip bread pudding (V)

(V) = vegetarian

Cinnamon French Toast Muffins

OK, so these really aren't muffins in the technical sense. There is no batter, no flour. Eggs, milk, and sugar are stirred together and then poured over cubes of bread that are waiting patiently in little muffin cups. It's actually a bread pudding, but better. Each serving (muffin) has those delectable crispy outer edges and the rich creamy filling. Everyone is happy with these French toast muffins.

Ham, Egg, and Cheese Breakfast Casserole

This is a perfect make-ahead casserole for a special holiday, perhaps a Christmas or Easter brunch. What I like most about this ham, egg, and cheese casserole is that it is simple enough that you can enlist the kids to help put it together the night before.

loving-leftovers-stale-bread

Panzanella (Italian Bread Salad)

Bread salad is a common (and thrifty) meal in northern Italy which is where I first tasted it. Why toss out perfectly good (though slightly stale) bread, when you can toss it with a few fresh ingredients and make this wonderful, versatile dish? Check out the list of suggested add-ins!

Ingredients for 2 Servings

  • 4–5 slices day-old rustic bread
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 4 small Roma tomatoes, or 1–2 large beefsteak, heirloom, or tomato of your choice
  • 1/4 of a red onion, thinly sliced
  • 5–10 basil leaves sliced into thin ribbons (chiffonade)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Lightly moisten the day-old bread under running water. The bread should be moistened all the way through. If it’s too wet, gently squeeze excess water from the bread with your hands and set aside while chopping vegetables. The bread should crumble, not clump/collapse, or be soggy.
  2. Shred the bread into a large salad bowl. I like to keep some larger pieces of bread in my panzanella, but you can crumble the bread down until there are very fine pieces, or “breadcrumbs” that resemble couscous.
  3. Dice the tomatoes and add to the bowl along with the cucumbers and onion. Add vinegar and olive oil and mix completely.

Other Suggested Add-Ins

  • roasted bell pepper, diced
  • diced zucchini
  • diced yellow summer squash
  • fresh-steamed asparagus tips
  • crisp broccoli florets
  • drained garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • crumbled feta cheese
  • shaved pecorino Romano cheese
  • crumbled blue cheese
  • crisp crumbled bacon
  • chopped walnuts
  • hard-cooked eggs, chopped

Chicken Soup With Bread Dumplings

In our "waste not, want not" kitchen, there was always an ample supply of homemade noodles, but if slices of bread were growing stale, Mom would take the time to make dumplings as well. A rich homemade chicken broth brimming with fat homemade noodles and these plump, bready balls is still one of my favorite comfort foods.

Ingredients

  • 8 cups of chicken broth (homemade or store-bought)
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely minced (I use a food processor)
  • 3 cups stale bread, cut into 1/2-inch (or smaller) cubes (include crusts)
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup milk (as needed)
  • Cooked noodles, at least 2 cups (they should be al dente)

Instructions

  1. Heat broth to a simmer over medium heat.
  2. Melt the butter in a large saute pan; add the onion and cook until softened. Add the bread cubes and cook, stirring constantly, until they are lightly toasted.
  3. Remove onion/bread mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add the flour, baking powder, egg, parsley, and salt. Mix well with your hands, adding milk as needed to achieve a dough that sticks together. Let stand for 15 minutes.
  4. Form dough into balls about the size of a walnut.
  5. Add cooked noodles to the broth.
  6. Carefully drop the bread dumplings into the simmering broth. Cook uncovered for 5 minutes. Cover and simmer 3 minutes longer.

Baked Mushrooms, Broken Bread

How do I begin to explain this dish? It's too rich to be an appetizer, more than a side dish, but lacking the protein to qualify as a meal. However, sometimes I like to do something different, something unconventional. Break a few rules. This is decadence on a plate. Open that good bottle of wine. Make a green salad or a plate of fresh vegetables to assuage any lingering feelings of guilt, and then dive into baked mushrooms and broken bread.

Spaghetti With Toasted Garlic Bread Crumbs

There are some dishes that are exquisite in their simplicity, a case wherein the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This spaghetti with toasted garlic bread crumbs is one of those dishes.

Simple spaghetti strands cooked to perfect al dente toothsomeness. Onion and garlic gently simmered in olive oil until fragrant. A pinch of red pepper flakes. A dash of oregano. Set aside.

In the same pan, add another splash of fruity olive oil, a pat of butter, and then the breadcrumbs are tossed and toasted. Onions and garlic return to the pan along with the perfect spaghetti strands.

Parmesan. Perfection.

loving-leftovers-stale-bread

Lablabi (Chickpea and Harissa Soup)

Lablabi—a silly-sounding name for a seriously flavorful and thrifty dish from Tunisia. Begin with a simple chickpea (garbanzo bean) soup. Enrich the broth with garlic, tomato, and toasted cumin. Harissa adds bold flavor, crusty chunks of bread thicken the broth to a comforting porridge, and a soft-cooked egg spills its yolk to create a rich, creamy bowl of comfort. Milk Street provides an amazing recipe for chickpea and harissa soup. Don't be put off by the lengthy list of ingredients. The flavors of the herbs and spices will reward your efforts.

loving-leftovers-stale-bread

Spinach and Cheese Strata

What is a strata? Think of it as a bread pudding, but savory instead of sweet. This spinach and cheese dish is a wonderful vegetarian meal, rich with eggs, milk, and cheese then packed with nutritious spinach.

loving-leftovers-stale-bread

Melt-in-Your-Mouth Meatloaf

There is a secret to making the perfect meatloaf, a meatloaf that is tender, not dense, flavorful, not boring, firm, not crumbly. That secret is what every Italian nana uses to make perfect meatballs and sauce—a panade.

A panade is simply stale bread soaked in milk. When blended with the meat(s) you achieve a loaf that holds together but isn't solid like a brick. It's light and bursting with flavor, like this one this melt-in-your-mouth meatloaf by FoodSoGoodMall.

Apple Pie Bread Pudding

Lyuba is the author/creator/photographer for the blog WillCookForSmiles. She created this apple pie bread pudding that tastes just like a cinnamon-spice apple pie, but without the fuss of making a crust. A scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream makes this absolutely perfect.

Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding

Once upon a time, I didn't like bread pudding. I'd tried it once, and that was enough to convince me that bread pudding was a waste of time (and calories). I was wrong. This photo by Trish (MomOnTimeOut) enticed me to give bread pudding just one more try, and I'm so glad that I did.

This chocolate chip bread pudding is nothing like the soggy sponge of my memories. It is rich and creamy, but crispy on the edges and luxuriant with chocolate and chocolate's best friend (salted caramel sauce).

© 2018 Linda Lum

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