Among the many food items that are not only easy to make at home, but also always, always better when made at home rather than purchased from a store, I’d have to place croutons in the top 5. It’s not that I eat a lot of croutons, but when I see someone buying a huge bag of dried bread that has been dusted with strange laboratory-conceived flavorings, I just want to stop that person, place a hand on his or her shoulder, and say, “Drop the bag. There’s a better way.”
I know, I know. You don’t have a lot of time. You work a lot, and when you get home, you don’t want to spend a lot of time crouton-ing it up when you would rather be…I don’t even know what to put here, because making croutons at home is just about as effortless as it gets. Most of the time spent on these croutons is taken up by baking time, and during that baking time you can make a salad to accompany your croutons, slice up a bunch of stuff to pile into a fantastic panzanella with these croutons, or beat together a few eggs and other fillings to fold over these croutons and cook into a frittata.
You can take leftover croutons to work to make a bowl of microwaved soup into something truly special. If you’re looking for a semi-fancy snack, nibble on some of these croutons, paired with apple slices, and ditch your regular mid-day work snack of over-salted packaged nuts with off-brand M&Ms. Or just alternate bites of crouton with bites of grape tomato and pretend that you are eating outside in a Mediterranean garden (instead of inside, under fluorescent lights, while the never ending pitter-pat of keyboard typing plays the soundtrack to your life). 25 minutes, start to finish, and these croutons, with any number of pairings, can be yours.
Last Year: Indian Chicken Kebabs (this is one of my favorite dishes, and it contains one of my favorite stories about being in India)
Big and Crunchy Herb and Chèvre Croutons Recipe
8 ounces rustic bread, cut into large 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large clove of garlic, finely diced and mashed into a paste
4 ounces chèvre
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh herb of your choice (rosemary, thyme, or tarragon would work well here—I used tarragon and it was divine)
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray or brush a large baking sheet with a bit of olive oil, then set aside.
Place bread cubes in a large bowl. In a small saucepan, melt butter with olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, and allow to cook only slightly, until the garlic becomes fragrant (about 20 seconds). Remove from heat, then stir in chèvre, herbs, black pepper, and salt. Stir until the ingredients are combined and the cheese has melted.
Pour the cheese mixture over the bread cubes, and toss to combine evenly, until all the bread is coated. Place bread cubes in a single layer on prepared baking sheet. Bake in center of oven for 18-20 minutes, until the croutons are golden brown and crisp.
Eat on a salad, fold into a frittata, make into panzanella, or place on top of soup. Never buy croutons again.