Ours is a throw-away society, perfectly comfortable with disposable everything, from diapers to razors to all manner of packaging. As I have noted in this column, our food waste is enormous, actually exceeding our consumption.
It wasn’t always so. Diapers used to be cloth and washable and razors were at one time steel, able to be sharpened with a strop, and made to last a lifetime. Even the safety razor was built to last forever, though it used disposable blades. Today’s multi-bladed throw-away is a small-scale environmental disaster.
And food packaging! Don’t get me started. I am especially sensitive to this issue, having just returned from a holiday in Italy and France where we shopped at markets and took home our produce not in shrink-wrapped plastic, but in a reusable bag, our meat in a slip of wax paper folded at both ends, and our bread in a twist of paper. And that brings me to the actual subject of this column: stale bread. French and especially Italian bread is good for about three hours before it dries out. In those three hours it is delicious. But the Italians (among others, including the French and British) have developed recipes to make use of bread that is beyond its best instead of throwing it away. This allows for guilt-free eating of bread bought at the local boulangerie or panificio twice or even three times a day.
I have written about my favorite recipe for garlic soup before… a concoction that uses stale bread as a thickener, and knocks out colds and flu bugs like a heavyweight prize fighter. Another wonderful use of stale bread is in an Italian salad called Panzanella. As unappetizing as “stale bread salad” might sound, this makes use of fresh flavourful ingredients to produce a deliciously different summer treat… and recycles bread that is beyond its best.
Panzanella1 ½ to 2 Cups diced fresh tomatoes
½ Cup diced green onion
3 Tbsp chopped fresh basil (or more to taste)
½ Tbsp chopped fresh oregano or Herbs de Provence
1 clove crushed garlic
2 Tbsp Olive oil
1 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar
3 Cups diced stale French or Italian bread
Mix together all the ingredients except the bread and let sit for half an hour for the flavours to blend. When ready to serve, stir in the bread chunks so they are well coated and season with salt and pepper.
Note: Don’t even try to use ordinary plastic wrapped sliced bread for this salad. First, it doesn’t seem to go stale and dry out, and I do not want to know what’s in it that accomplished this. Second, when it is mixed with any liquid it turns to wallpaper paste, and “wallpaper paste and tomato salad” sounds even worse than “stale bread salad”.