Janine Gilbertson's Granite Kitchen: Get creative with your croutons

By JANINE GILBERTSON July 11. 2017 11:43PM
Southwest salad gets its crunch from fried corn tortilla strips. (JANINE GILBERTSON)

Lately I’ve been obsessed with buying really good bread: sunflower honey wheat, homemade cinnamon raisin, dark pumpernickels and rye. I like to brush both sides with a little butter, then stick it on the grill to toast and serve it with dinner.

The problem with all this good bread is that oftentimes I’m left with a little portion of the loaf that doesn’t get used. After a week or so, those little pieces start to pile up and eventually end up getting tossed. It just breaks my heart to throw away food.

It finally occurred to me that I should be cutting up those leftover ends and turning them into croutons. Since we eat lots of salads, especially in summer when you can get farm fresh vegetables, croutons are a great thing to have around the house. For a while, I was only buying croutons for caesar salads because I checked the labels on store-bought croutons and was not happy with the amount of sodium they contained, so croutons became a caesar-only situation. Since I started making my own, though, croutons are a salad regular.

If you cut those leftover bits of bread into cubes and sauté them in a little butter or olive oil (this makes the seasonings stick) then add some herbs and seasonings, you can make your own croutons, minus all the preservatives, for salads, soups or as a topping for a casserole.

Some of my favorite breads to use as croutons include cinnamon raisin, honey wheat and multigrain varieties with seeds such as sunflower or pepitas.

If I’m making a Southwest style salad or taco salad, I like to add tortilla strip salad toppings for interest and a little crunch. These are easy to make at home too. Simply slice up a yellow corn tortilla into thin strips, drop them in some oil and give them a quick fry. You can sprinkle them with a little Southwest style seasoning and a pinch of salt.

Wonton strips make another great salad topping. These can also be bought at the store, but you can easily make your own by buying wonton wrappers and cutting them into thin strips before giving them a quick fry in a little oil. These go great in an Asian-influenced salad.

Homemade Croutons

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp butter

3 cups assorted bread, such as cinnamon raisin or honey wheat, cut into cubes

2 tsp herbs de provence

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

2 tsp chopped fresh parsley

Add the butter and olive oil to a large skillet over medium high heat. When the butter is melted, add the remaining ingredients and stir to coat. Sauté for 5 to 6 minutes, until croutons are starting to brown slightly.

Remove from skillet and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, or until the croutons begin to turn a toasted golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Store in a sealable plastic container or zip-top plastic bag.

Fried wonton strips add crunch to this Asian-style salad. (JANINE GILBERTSON)

Arugula Mandarin Salad

2 cups arugula

1/4 cup shelled edamame beans

3/4 cup mandarin oranges

1/4 cup English cucumber, finely diced

1/4 cup red pepper, diced

2 tbsp ginger dressing, such as Makoto

2 tsp sesame seeds

1/4 cup wonton strips, such as Fresh Gourmet

Add the arugula, beans and dressing to a large bowl and toss to combine. Arrange on a platter and sprinkle with oranges, cucumber, and red pepper. Garnish with sesame seeds and wonton strips, then serve.

Southwest Salad

2 cups mixed greens

1 red pepper, diced

1 Roma tomato, chopped

1/4 cup black beans, rinsed

1/4 cup tortilla strip toppings, such as Fresh Gourmet

1/4 cup mango fire cheese, shredded

2 tbsp lite lime salad dressing, such as Newman’s

Add the greens, tortilla strips, black beans and dressing to a bowl and toss to combine. Arrange on a platter and sprinkle the red pepper, tomatoes and shredded cheese over the top, then serve.

Homemade croutons aren’t just for salads; they’re the perfect topper for this summer vegetable bake. (JANINE GILBERTSON)

Summer Vegetable Bake with Crouton Topping

1 small yellow summer squash, sliced

1 small zucchini, sliced

1 small eggplant, sliced and quartered

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 cup purple onion, minced

1/4 cup red pepper, minced

1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped

2 tbsp butter

2 tsp all purpose seasoning, such as Camp Mix

1 cup homemade croutons

1/2 cup Swiss cheese, shredded

Add the butter to a large skillet and set over medium high heat. When the butter is melted, add the garlic, onion and pepper and sauté for about 3 minutes, until the pepper and onion have softened.

Add the squash, eggplant, sun dried tomatoes and seasoning and cook for an additional 4 to 5 minutes, until all of the vegetables are softened. Add the croutons and toss to combine.

Transfer to a baking dish sprayed lightly with cooking spray. Top with shredded cheese and cover with aluminum foil. Bake in an oven heated to 375 degrees for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted.


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