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A New Life for Stale Bread—For Mush Lovers and Haters Alike

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The best thing since sliced bread? Stale bread.

Photo by James Ransom

From stale bread comes bread puddings and stratas, croutons and breadcrumbs, soups and sauces, and more. Why, stale bread is so useful, sometimes we even find ourselves needing to stale it on purpose.

When stale bread shows up in soups, often times they are built around the stale bread from the start (I’m looking at you sopa de ajo and pancotto), but that's not the case with this recipe.

It begins with minestra, a soup that easily straddles winter and spring with its mix of comforting ingredients (cabbage, cannellini beans) and vibrant flavors (fennel, dandelion greens, fennel seeds). (The author, Christina @ Christina’s Cucina is a World Porridge Champion, so if anyone knows comfort food, it must be her.)

And then it provides a second meal: The leftover minestra becomes a hearty, filling dish with the addition of stale, crusty Italian bread and generous drizzles of olive oil (not unlike the traditional preparation of ribollita).

Photo by Bobbi Lin

The dish is delicious as written, but rather than heat the minestra, bread, and olive oil all at the same time, I also tried starting with just the bread and the oil before adding any soup.

This created croutons that, when heated up with the soup, provided an pleasantly oil-soaked, crispy contrast to the rest of the soup—perfect for those who might be skeptical of mushy foods. Plus, fried bread is never a bad thing.

Reheated Minestra with Olive Oil and Stale Bread

Reheated Minestra with Olive Oil and Stale Bread

Christina @ Christina's Cucina Christina @ Christina's Cucina
Serves 4 people, for two meals

For the minestra:

  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 20 ounces water, or more if necessary
  • 4 cloves of fresh garlic, slightly crushed
  • 1 large (or 2 small) Savoy cabbage, cut into chunks
  • 1 large bunch of dandelion, washed and cut in half
  • 1 small- or medium-sized fennel bulb, washed and cut into pieces
  • 1 bunch of spinach, washed and cut in half
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, or more as needed to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried fennel seeds
  • 12 ounces cooked cannellini or borlotti beans

For the reheated minestra with olive oil and stale bread:

  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 cups leftover minestra
  • 1 1/2 cups stale, crusty Italian bread, torn into bite-size pieces (measurement isn't important, just add more or less bread to your liking)
Go to Recipe

Know of a great recipe in the Food52 archives that uses an overlooked kitchen scrap (anything from commonly discarded produce parts to stale bread to bones and more)? Tell me about it in the comments: I want to know how you're turning what would otherwise be trash into a dish to treasure!

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Soup, Vegetarian, Cooking with Scraps