Like most Italian-American restaurants, Lista’s brought bread to the table before the salads and entrees… served in a napkin-lined basket with those little ‘pats’ of paper-wrapped butter on the side. It was actually French bread that we served — because the long, narrow loaves were easier to slice and they fit better in the small baskets. We also had this stainless steel bread warmer (about the size of a small microwave oven) with a lower drawer that held distilled water and an upper drawer that bread slices were placed in. On the side was a handle or lever (like a slot machine) that was pumped to produce steam which quickly warmed the bread so that when it was brought to the table it would easily melt the little butter pats.
Now as you can imagine, over the course of days, there would be some bread left over and since restaurateurs are a frugal lot, there was a need to find a use for day old bread.
So today I want to give you two simple recipes from Lista’s that helped us solve the bread problem, and may even help your family re-purpose that day old loaf sitting on your counter.
Introducing the Crouton! Apparently created in 17th century France as a way to make stale bread more palatable, the crouton (or “little crust”) has been around for centuries. (Ah, but in the early days of Lista’s, croutons were purchased in large boxes and they resembled the kind of thing that is sold at thanksgiving to make ‘stuffing.’ Not very appealing by today’s standards. Of course today we have become kind of ‘crouton snobby’ with umpteen different varieties and options on store shelves… but I digress.)
Somewhere along the timeline, Lista’s began making their own croutons and the resulting crunchy little bread cubes were so popular that customers would order them by the bowlful to munch on while waiting for their dinners.
At Lista’s we actually deep fried our croutons; after allowing the bread cubes to air-dry for some time, they were submerged in the deep-fat fryer until they were crispy and deep brown — then they were seasoned while still hot and allowed to come to room temperature before storing in airtight bins for use on salads, etc.
Since I prefer not to deep fry at home I have written the recipe with a stove top method. However, If you own a deep fryer, then by all means use it for the authentic experience. Unfortunately, baking the croutons really won’t give you the same results.
Prep time: 5 minutes – plus drying time up to 2 hours
Cook time: 10 minutes
Makes: lots of croutons!
1/2 loaf Day-old French Bread – cut into 1/2″ cubes (about 3-4 cups)
1/2 cup Olive Oil (not extra virgin) – more as needed
1 tsp Lista’s Seasoned Salt (or to taste)
1/4 cup Grated Pecorino Romano
1 tsp Dry Parsley (optional)
1. Cut day old bread into 3/4″ cubes using a serrated knife. Spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and allow to air dry for at least 2 hours.
2. In a large deep skillet or frying pan — heat all the oil over medium heat.
3. Add the dry bread cubes and stir to coat with oil — continue to cook and stir over medium heat until the bread cubes start to brown and get crunchy. (When using a deep fryer follow manufacturers instructions to deep fry bread cubes at 350º F until golden brown and crispy – drain on paper towels before continuing with step #4)
4. Transfer the browned croutons into a large bowl and sprinkle immediately with seasoned salt, grated Romano and parsley. Shake or stir to distribute the seasonings evenly over all the croutons. Serve with your favorite salad or soup.
5. Allow extra croutons to cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temperature. Can be frozen up to a month if desired.
Even though we served lots and lots of croutons at Lista’s, the leftover bread situation continued… Welcome Bread Pudding!
This old fashioned, homey, dessert (somewhat akin to the ubiquitous Rice Pudding found on so many diner menus) became the answer to the day-old bread dilemma.
And as Bread Pudding found its way into the hearts of many of our customers, my Dad became somewhat of a bread pudding artiste, creating several interpretations of the sweetened bread, milk and egg mixture. Dad made the traditional style with cinnamon and raisins, plus apple-walnut bread pudding, chocolate bread pudding, and even a cherry-berry bread pudding. Sometimes he would cut it into cubes and layer it into vanilla or butterscotch pudding like a parfait. Customers looked forward to seeing Dad’s bread pudding on our fabulous salad bar. Later, when Dad worked for SUNY College at Brockport, he took the bread pudding recipes with him and it became just as popular with the faculty and students there.
You can be just as creative when you make bread pudding at home — but here is the basic Lista’s Bread Pudding recipe to start with.
Lista’s Bread Pudding
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Makes: 12-15 servings
1 loaf day old French Bread – cut into 1″ cubes (about 6-8 cups cubes)
1 quart Whole Milk
4 Eggs – lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups Brown Sugar (plus more to sprinkle on top)
1 cup Raisins (optional)
2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/2 stick Butter – melted
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Place the bread cubes in a large mixing bowl.
3. In a separate mixing bowl whisk together the milk, eggs, melted butter, brown sugar, raisins and cinnamon until well combined — pour over the bread cubes.
4. Let the bread soak in the milk and egg mixture for about 15 minutes — then using your hands, or a large mixing spoon, stir the bread mixture until well combined and the raisins (if using) are evenly distributed.
5. Pour the melted butter into a 9×13 inch baking pan – tilt to coat the bottom and sides of the pan.
6. Pour the bread, milk, egg mixture into the prepared pan.
7. Bake at 350 degrees F for 35-45 minutes, until the liquid has set. The pudding is done when the edges are starting to brown and pull away from the pan.
8. Serve warm or room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream or even ice cream.
There you have it, Bread… and more Bread — two ways to use up that day old loaf. I hope you enjoy these easy to make recipes. Let us know if you remember those Lista’s crouton and tell us what you think by leaving a comment here — liking us — or sharing on social media.
And until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”