Repurposing Your Favorite Loaf

So you purchased that perfect olive loaf from La Brea Bakery and while it made superb
sandwiches over the past week, there’s still a half loaf leftover that’s beginning to stale. Or
perhaps it’s that artisanal created baguette from that independent French bakery down the
street that’s also gone stale after several days. What do you do with all of that stale bread?

You could simply tear up the bread and feed the pieces to the neighborhood fowl… like my
neighbor down the street. Of course, that simply trains wildlife to be dependent on human
contact for their daily sustenance. And propagating invasive bird species is definitely a risky
proposition with the rise in H5, H7 and H9 avian influenza.

The Simplest Repurposing

This simply involves grabbing that original kitchen appliance that hasn’t been doomed to the
dreaded kitchen appliance graveyard, the toaster. I mean, the toaster’s main job is to bring stale
bread back to life by converting a chalky, dry piece of bread by hastening moisture loss and
creating a crispy, desirable piece of toasted bread via the Maillard reaction. In fact, sometimes I
enjoy a golden browned piece of toast even more than fresh bread straight from the oven!

You could also take several pieces of toasted bread and run them in your food processor to
create homemade breadcrumbs. Running stale bread through the food processor also creates
breadcrumbs but I find that the moisture level of stale bread still allows even refrigerated
breadcrumbs to form white, black and various hues of blue “beards” and that toasting removes
enough moisture that your refrigerated breadcrumbs usually last until you use them for
meatloaf, meatballs or Romesco sauce. Plus the caramelized surface of toast adds another flavor
dimension to your culinary creation.

Savory Bread Pudding?

Everyone is familiar with the concept of bread pudding, usually cubes of stale bread soaked in a
sweetened custard mixture consisting of milk, eggs and sugar often laced with dessert spices and
fruit then baked and served with a rich, sweet sauce. I’ve made my fair share of sweet bread
pudding using baked and fried goods as diverse as stale doughnuts to Wolferman’s blueberry
English muffins. And while a sweet bread pudding… especially a cinnamon infused version using
stale cinnamon rolls topped with a sweetened bourbon sauce is divine, a savory version during
the main meal is just as delicious. The original version of this recipe was from Chef Edwin Goto
while he was still the Sous Chef at the Koele Lodge (he currently runs Village Burger Waimea
and Noodle Club Waimea). However the original recipe called for 2 cups of heavy cream which
usually doesn’t have a place in my daily diet so I dropped that all the way down to skim milk
and substituted whole wheat bread for white bread and increased the fresh mushroom content
so it’s guilt free the whole week. Though this recipe was first published in the Nichi Bei Times
over 10 years ago, I think it’s worth another look…

Mushroom Bread Pudding

1 tbsp unsalted butter
¼ cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1 tbsp unsalted butter
½ c finely diced onions
2 tbsp finely chopped garlic
4 c coarsely chopped fresh shiitake mushroom caps
4 c coarsely chopped button mushrooms
4 c coarsely chopped oyster mushroom caps
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 c skim milk
½ tsp poultry seasoning
2 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of ground nutmeg
2 egg yolks
4 whole eggs
1 lb whole wheat bread, cut into ½ inch cubes
2 tbsp chopped parsley

Butter bottom and sides of a 2-quart shallow casserole dish with 1 tablespoon of butter.  
Sprinkle with panko, ensuring it adheres to the dish.  Shake out excess panko; set dish aside.  

In a large pot fitted with a lid, melt the other tablespoon of butter over medium heat.  Cook
onions and garlic until translucent but do not brown.  Stir in mushrooms, cover pot and cook
for about 5 minutes, allowing mushrooms to render their liquid.  Remove the lid; add thyme
and rosemary.  Cook uncovered, stirring frequently until all the liquid has evaporated, about 5
to 8 minutes.  Add the milk, poultry seasoning, salt, pepper, cayenne and nutmeg.  Allow to
reduce just before boiling and remove from heat; cool.  Once the mixture is cool to the touch,
add egg yolks and whole eggs; mix thoroughly.  Fold in bread and parsley.  Allow bread to
absorb custard for about 15 minutes, mixing occasionally.  Transfer custard to prepared casserole
dish; bake uncovered for about 45 minutes at 350ºF.  Pudding should be firm and a knife blade
inserted into the middle should be clean when removed.  Serves 10-12 people.

Savory bread puddings can also constitute a full, one baking pan meal if you incorporate
proteins into the mixture. Since I have to refresh my “Sponge Bob” sourdough starter at least
every 3 weeks, it means I make quite a bit of sourdough focaccia. Whatever leftover focaccia I
have usually is transformed into a strata. While most strata are served for breakfast due to the
use of eggs and milk along with usual breakfast meats, my favorite strata application is my
Strata Italiano highlighted in my December column using Italian sausage, roasted red peppers
and spinach. The basic recipe calls for 4 cups of milk, 5 eggs along with a protein and at least
one balancing acid source (pickles, mustard, tomatoes, etc).

Or Bread Salad?

This Old World repurposing of old bread hails from Italy where panzanella or bread salad
converts stale bread into a delicious salad. Basically, cubed pieces of stale bread are tossed with
fresh vegetables to create a great side for savory proteins as the vinaigrette tossed in the
panzanella refreshes the palate between bits of richer protein dishes. And once again, a version
of this recipe first appeared in the Nichi Bei Times well over a decade ago but since we’re
heading closer to summer when grills re-emerge from their Winter slumber, it seemed
appropriate to repost.

Grilled Veggie Panzanella

2 zucchini quartered lengthwise
1 large red onion sliced in 1 inch slices with rings kept intact
1 green, red, orange and yellow bell pepper, seeded then quartered lengthwise
1 lb fresh cherry tomatoes, halved
¼ cup light olive oil or canola oil
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
Salt and fresh black pepper to taste

1 two foot long whole wheat baguette, split lengthwise and cut roughly 1 inch cubes
(make sure bread is stale, the bread can be rock hard). Place in large mixing bowl.

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp canola oil
About 20 pitted Kalamata or Nicoise olives roughly chopped
1 small clove garlic finely chopped
1 tbsp rinsed, drained and roughly chopped capers
Fresh black pepper
Julienne fresh basil, about ¼ cup

Place veggies in a plastic bag with oil, Italian seasoning and salt and black pepper. Grill veggies
except tomatoes on a very hot grill until grill marks appear – don’t overcook veggies, they
should still be a little firm. When veggies are done, roughly chop into 1 inch pieces –
mushrooms can be whole, halved or quartered depending on size – then place all veggies over
stale bread cubes (along with juices from veggies) then cover mixing bowl with shrink wrap. The
residual heat, veggie juices and steam will penetrate and soften and flavor the stale bread. Mix
next seven ingredients into a vinaigrette and pour over bread/veggie mixture. Toss with the
strips of fresh basil. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

So wasting your stale bread is for the birds… No it’s NOT! It’s meant to repurpose for delicious
side courses and main dishes. Remember that old proverb: Waste not, want not…