Old, stale bread is something many of us might throw away. Think again! Reviving hardened bread into delicious dinners, soups and salads has been going on for centuries. Even beer was originally created through the fermentation of stale bread (see our story on this here).
These dishes have now become kitchen staples. Take French toast or Italian panzanella – a salad of soaked stale bread, fresh tomatoes, onions, vinegar and basil – or the Spanish cold soup, gazpacho.
A further search and cookbooks throw up a load more. Italian pappa al pomodoro is tomato and bread soup, cooked long and slow until it thickens into a delicious, hearty meal. Or sopa de ajo – a traditional, hearty Spanish soup of garlic, stale bread, paprika and stock. A peasant dish of few ingredients, but with the modern addition of beaten eggs and even Serrano ham, it’s a little more luxurious. Or migas (literally translated as crumbs in Spanish) is a one-pan wonder of fried soaked bread, chorizo, paprika and a fried egg. These are all dishes that need hard bread to taste as good as they do. Rather than a “peasant” replacement for the soft, fresh loaf we can so easily get hold of today, these recipes need tough, old bread to prevent them from disintegrating into a mushy mess. So don’t throw those crusty ends away just yet!
On a recent trip to Greece, I also discovered dakos. A simple Cretan dish of hard, crisp bread (known as rusks), topped with diced or grated tomato, extra virgin olive oil, feta and fresh oregano. The traditional rusks are made from barley and can be bought ready-made, but it’s not totally necessary here. You can either bake old bread in a low oven until hardened and crisp or just use a good bit of stale bread – ideal for soaking up the tomatoes’ juices and a good dose of olive oil. Job done. Dakos is best made in summer when tomatoes are at their peak when it comes to flavour. Add other ingredients, like olives or capers, or swap the feta for another creamy cheese.
1 ripe tomato
extra virgin olive oil
1 thick slice of stale, hard bread
20g feta cheese
1 pinch of dried oregano
Grate or finely dice the tomato, then place into a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of oil and a pinch of black pepper, then mix well. Pop the bread on a plate and spoon over the tomato mixture. Finish with a crumbling of feta, a sprinkle of oregano and a final drizzle of oil. I tore over a couple of olives here too, but it’s not vital. Tuck in!