I want to spend a little more time talking techniques. Not formal recipes, but way of doing basic stuff that I find useful. And what better place to start than croutons?
I like crunch. I prefer crunchy peanut butter and I definitely get a cone when I order ice cream. When I am at a salad bar, I pile on the croutons. Why are salad bars both so awesome and so gross?! Nevermind that, croutons are great. And they are something that can be made better at home.
I buy a loaf of bread that I like, baguette, country loaf, sometimes even pumpernickel. Your choice, just make sure you like the taste of it. I cut it into small cubes. For me, the ideal size is about 3/4″ x 3/4″, sometimes a little smaller. These can sit on the counter and get stale, so no rush. Most crouton recipes suggest you remove the crusts from the bread. I used to blindly obey this rule, until I realized I had no idea why I would do that. The crust is my favorite part.
I pour a few tablespoons of olive oil into a small bowl and add a clove or two of minced garlic. I let the oil mixture sit for between 20-30 minutes. This part is important. I picked up the technique from Cook’s Illustrated, I think. It provides the perfect amount of garlic flavor.
Pour the oil through a strainer onto the bread, push on the garlic solids to get all of the oil out. Toss the bread with the oil until it is evenly distributed. Sprinkle the croutons with table salt (kosher salt does not stick as well), black pepper, and some dried oregano.
Spread the mixture in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in a 350°F oven for 15-25 minutes, or until the croutons are golden and crunchy. You can stir them occasionally to make sure they are browning evenly. Cool to room temperature and then store in an airtight container for a couple of days.
Use them on salads (duh), soup, or even as snacks.