Packaged croutons are, I think, an excellent indicator of modern American decadence. Are we, collectively as a country, really too lazy to cube a slice of bread and toast it? It’s certainly an indicator of how deeply entrenched processed foods are in the U.S. diet. I say it’s time to take a stand: shake off the yoke of Campbell’s Soup (parent company of Pepperidge Farm), Castle Harland (the private equity firm that owns Marie Callender’s), and Con-Agra (maker of Salad Bar Selects)! Make your own croutons–take back your kitchen!
Seriously, you can make the salad while the croutons toast, and you’ll be in complete control of the salt levels, seasonings, and size. Good croutons add texture and interest to otherwise plain salads–just try to imagine a Caesar without the obligatory toasted bread cubes. If you use whole-grain or fiber-enriched bread, you can even gain a little nutritional boost without anyone noticing. Bonus: stale bread is perfect for making croutons, so it’s an economical solution as well.
- 3-1 inch thick slices crusty bread (sourdough, pain de campagne, or other sturdy bread is best; enriched white breads will make softer, crumbly croutons)
- 1 T melted butter OR 1T olive oil
- minced garlic or 2-3 drops of onion juice (squeezed from finely minced onion)
- other dried seasonings as desired (italian blend, herbs de provence, or dill are good choices)
- pinch of fine salt
- other good options (though not when used all together): finely grated parmesan, a tiny bit of smoked paprika, or substitute the olive oil for walnut or hazelnut oil
Using a sharp bread knife, cut the bread slices neatly into bite-sized cubes and place in a medium bowl. Mix butter or olive oil with remaining ingredients and drizzle over bread cubes. Spread bread cubes on a small, rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 325 for 5-10 minutes, until nicely browned. (A toaster oven works well.) Croutons will keep in an airtight container, for two weeks. If croutons soften, re-crisp for a few minutes in a warm oven.