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4 common leftovers - no.2 Bread

"These starchy staples are happy to soak up all manner of sweet and savoury flavours" Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Continuing with the Woolworths/OzHarvest piece on the four most wasted foods - here we are with bread. I have to say that this is, in some ways, the most unlikely leftover. To be completely snobby here - those that buy the sliced white variety are surely making lots of sandwiches for their families and so, I would have thought that they would not have any leftover. Besides sliced white doesn't really seem to go off.

"One of the things that's wrong with mass-produced bread is that it does not age well. The insignificant crust and crushable, cotton-woolly interior remain unchanged until the stuff's gone mouldy. Make breadcrumbs with white sliced and you end up with a meaningless dust that vanishes in the mouth like snow." Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Besides, continuing with my food snobbery here, this kind of bread can always provide toast for breakfast or tea. Or to be more adventurous bruschetta or crostini. So many things you can put on top of them. Or rather unhealthily, but rather deliciously, you can fry it for breakfast. My mother used to do that. Although this was before the days of sliced bread. It was real bread from an actual baker. And slightly more sophisticated than that is French toast - dipped in egg and sugar and then fried and topped with yummy things. Anyway I don't really understand why this kind of bread would get thrown out. And as for those who buy sourdough and so on, well you would sort of expect them to know how to use up any leftovers.

Incidentally Hugh Fearnley-Whittingsall is wrong about not being able to use leftover sliced bread. It's the basis after all for that glory of English cooking - Summer pudding. Of course you can make it with sourdough kind of bread, and some do, but I'm pretty sure I have seen some famous chef saying that you really need to make it with sliced white bread. But then again, perhaps I'm wrong. I often am these days.

We always have a lot of bread in our fridge. Neither of us can walk through the bread section of our supermarkets who now make good quality bread (not Aldi), without buying some. And David continues to make his glorious bread as well. Mostly it gets eaten as bread with cheese, mostly, when fresh, but thereafter it gets used as toast for breakfast or as a base for my lunch of sardines on toast - or a kind of bruschetta of tomatoes on toast with various extras. These days when there truly is too much bread - if it's fresh and uncut then it just gets frozen. If it's stale it gets processed into breadcrumbs, put in a bag and also frozen for a wide variety of uses.

I'm sure you all know those - in stuffings and as lighteners and expanders for meatballs, meatloaf and suchlike; Or fried in olive oil until golden and scattered over pasta - a truly delicious way of using them. Scattered over salads too instead of the more robust croutons which are also something to do with stale bread - fried or oven baked - also delicious. Pangrattato is fried breadcrumbs taken to the next level by adding various herbs and other flavourings. Jamie Oliver has a version, for example that includes horseradish - which doesn't sound very Italian to me. Breadcrumbs are, of course, also used to coat things which are going to be fried or roasted, or scattered over the top of things like gratin before roasting in the oven. These days, instead of using our own leftover breadcrumbs, panko breadcrumbs - bought in packets from the supermarket are the in thing. Even I have some. And when I think of it, my mother used to buy commercially produced breadcrumbs for this purpose. Why, why why? To be fair to my mother though there were no food processors back then, so she would have had to grate the bread to make breadcrumbs.

Various chefs recommend making croutons and freezing them too, but that seems a step too far to me. Just make them when you need them. You can always substitute with those frozen breadcrumbs. And one dish that uses croutons (no - not Caesar salad) is the Spanish tapas dish called Migas - the version shown here is from Serious Eats. Again one of this dishes that you could vary pretty much endlessly.

So what else did Woolworths offer to do with all that leftover bread and what else do our favourite cooks do? Lots of recipes here, but don't stop reading - you might find something worth trying. I have plans to make at least three of them.

Perhaps, since Woolworths started all this I should begin with their suggestions - some almost incidental, some more complicated. The featured dish, which also used leftover milk is a Vegetable mac and cheese - aimed at the less adventurous cook and none the worse for that. On their website you can also find Savoury bread crust chips and Bread crust breakfast tarts and you can indeed find recipes here and there that use slices of bread pressed into muffin tins for tarts with various fillings. Here they use an egg. And finally in perhaps the pièce de résistance they also suggest - Breadcrumb chocolate chip cookies - a crowd-pleaser if ever there was one.

I then moved to the net and tried to find more adventurous versions of the dishes you know well - bread and butter pudding being the main one, so here goes. And I have to admit that Yotam Ottolenghi wins hands down here on the most interesting variations. But then for all I know there are possibly much more amazing things on Instagram and Tik Tok.

So let's start with that bread and butter pudding idea. If you want to be trendy you can call it strata or you can make it with things like pannetone, brioche, croissants and so on. It can be sweet or savoury too. Fundamentally you butter your sliced bread, or spread it with something savoury or sweet and then pour over milk and eggs mixed together - or some other liquid. Add other titbits, like trendy chorizo or pancetta, veggies, fruit or nuts, and then bake. So two from Yotam Ottolenghi - both of which I may well try some time in the near future: Lamb and bread lasagne and Kale pesto strata with mustard and Gruyère which I think I have mentioned before. He is not, of course the only chef to think of this - there are heaps of other versions out there, but you could begin here and then make up your own version, because it seems to me that this is one of those infinitely variable things.

Soup - so many varieties here. Nigel Slater has a gorgeous sounding Soup of bread and cheese, but alas there is no recipe online as yet. It's from his latest book and looks like this. He describes it as:

"Silken and soothing, a soup with which to thaw a frozen soul. Cheese on toast you eat with a spoon. Wait for a frosty night."

We don't really have frosty nights here, but it is getting cooler. Maybe summer is over and we can move back to soup. What he does here is place a slice of toasted bread in the base of the bowl and pour the soup over it, which is a variation on French onion soup I guess. Jamie also has a slightly different take on the French onion soup idea - English onion soup with sage and cheddar and also a recipe for Pappa al pomodoro - the Italian bread and tomato soup. I remember once having an Italian cooking class that included this soup. It doesn't sound that appetising, but believe me it is. And very similar to Tuscan style ribollita from Esther Clark / BBC Good Food. Well there are heaps of recipes for both of these on the net. Yotam Ottolenghi then gives the idea a Middle-Eastern flavour with Chickpea tomato and bread soup

We all know that Ottolenghi loves chickpeas, and he uses them again in a twist - well quite a twist on Fattoush - the Middle-Eastern salad that uses bread (this version is from delicious.); and Panzanella - the Italian version of the same thing - here from Jamie. He calls his version Chickpea and herb fatteh - the fatteh bit being an Arabian dish, but I don't really think that it's a salad. Maybe the only common denominator is the stale pita bread.

To finish the savoury selection here are three oddments, as it were. Traditional English Bread sauce / BBC Good Food - which is a whole lot better than it sounds; Bread gnocchi puttanesca / Dominic Smith / delicious.; and A'ja - bread fritters from Ottolenghi.

But let's not forget dessert - two from Ottolenghi, one from Nigella, with a variation from Nigel Slater - Pumpernickel ice cream with caramelised crumbs; Skillet berries, bread and brown butter; Treacle slice. Nigel Slater's variation on the treacle slice, which is in itself a variation of another English classic - Treacle tart - is to add marmalade to the mix of breadcrumbs and Golden syrup. Last of all since Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is in many ways the go-to leftover guy, let's feature his Marmalade pudding. Yum.

With all these marvellous things - and it's really only the tip of the iceberg - why on earth would you throw stale bread away? Indeed Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall actually admits to preferring it from a chef's point of view:

"If you were to ask whether I prefer my bread fresh, fragrant and oven-warm, or a day or two older, it wouldn't be a pushover for the fresh. I'd rather not give up either, but it's the more seasoned loaf that offers greater culinary possibilities."

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

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