One of my favorite literary classics is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. In the novel, protagonist Francie Nolan describes how her mother would save money by purchasing day-old dried bread from the bakery and give the loaves new life by pouring water over them. I had also seen that trick on Rachel Ray’s show. The guest ran baguette loaves under a faucet of rushing water (a luxury that Francie Nolan and her family didn’t have in their New York tenement in the 1900s), and then she popped the wet loaves into a warm oven for a few minutes to soften the bread, making it edible again.
My family devours homemade and artisan bakery breads – baguettes, ciabatta, multigrain – but there are usually leftovers. The water trick is one option to revive crusty leftover bread; another is grating the brick-like heel into breadcrumbs. But one of my favorites is making croutons, especially with the spring salad season approaching.
Preheat the oven to 350 F and line two baking pans with parchment paper. Slice (or saw) any leftover bread into cubes about the size of dice. I use almost any type of bread. When you have about 2 cups of cubes, put them in a large bowl with enough room to stir without the cubes spilling out like dice on a Las Vegas craps table.
In a separate bowl, whisk about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and an Italian seasoning blend. I make my own with equal parts of the following dried herbs: oregano, basil, garlic powder, onion powder, rosemary and thyme.
Drizzle the oil mixture over the bread cubes and toss to coat them evenly. Dump the oiled cubes onto the prepared pans and bake for about 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until you achieve your desired crunch level. Store in a loosely covered container, or in a leftover bag from the bread.
Cubes of leftover bread can be tossed in seasoned oil and toasted to make croutons.