Company’s Coming…Quick! Grab Some Croutons!
You know those go-to foods…the ones you always have on hand or can quickly prepare!??! One of my favorites is homemade croutons.  I use the croutons for salads, soups and just to munch on. They are the perfect compliment to the roasted garlic, that I blogged about previously, as a quick and easy appetizer for those unexpected visitors. Using homemade croutons to top salads and soups (even just jazzed up store bought soups!) gives the meal a personal touch…it’s all about the presentation, you know!
I love, love, love bread! So, there is always some kind of bread around that I can use for croutons.  And even though you can use any ol’ sandwich bread or even leftover buns, my favorite croutons are from day old (or several days old!) crusty bread such as a French Baguette.  Slice the bread about 1/2 inch thick and cut to about 1 1/2 inch pieces.  The Baguette is already a perfect size, so I just slice it and am ready to season.
There are many different spice blends that work well for seasoning croutons.  Any of the store bought blends for dipping bread in olive oil are fine, but you can also mix your own.  By mixing your own, you control the amount of your favorite flavors you use.  I make a mix of Italian spices and Parmesan cheese, heavy on the garlic of course!
Parmesan Herb Seasoning Blend:
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried minced onion
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground garlic
1/8 teaspoon coarse ground pepper
pinch of fresh ground nutmeg (I keep whole nutmeg in the freezer and just add it to the recipe with my micro-plane)
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (a mix of Parmesan Romano would be tasty too)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Lay the bread slices on a baking sheet.  Generously drizzle with your favorite olive oil.  I am tossing the bread with Picholine Olive Oil (which has a lighter flavor that won’t over power the flavors of the spices) and topping with just a light drizzle of Garlic Infused Olive Oil from our local gourmet olive oil and vinegar shop, The Olive Twist.
Sprinkle a couple palmfuls (for the grammatical record, the computer doesn’t like the word palmful, but I am adding it as a scientifically based measurement term) of the seasoning blend over the bread.  Then, using your hands, toss the bread to lightly coat both sides of the pieces…adding more oil and/or spices as needed.  To enhance the garlic flavor, I’m drizzling a bit of the Garlic Infused Olive Oil and then adding a dusting of grated Parmesan cheese just before baking for that extra Parmesan crunch.
Toast the croutons at 425 degrees, turning once half way through baking, for 12-15 minutes.  Be sure the croutons cool completely before placing them in a storage container or bag so they stay crisp.
For a quick appetizer, set out the croutons with a bowl of roasted garlic as a spread.  You can also toss sliced ripe grape tomatoes, fresh basil, roasted garlic and olive oil, and top the tiny toasts with a piece of Mozzarella cheese and the tomato mixture for a yummy Bruschetta.  In the summer, I even toast the bread on the grill.  When grilling, the bread only takes a couple minutes each side to toast.
This recipe introduces the use of pre-mixed spice blends for achieving a particular flavor in a recipe.  Having spice blends on hand make it fast and simple to transform an unexciting, tasteless meal into something full of flavor!

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