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Put time into dinner now, and you can make it last forever -- or at least the whole week. Welcome to Halfway to Dinner, where we show you how to stretch your staples every which way.
I’ve baked my fair share of bread -- from quick loaves to pain de campagne with a starter I nursed for days. I might even throw the word poolish around, too, but the truth is my expertise does not lie in baking bread at all. It lies in eating it.
I put it in puddings, soups, salads, all incarnations of the sandwich -- I eat it freshly baked, still warm from the oven, with good butter and salt. I’m even good at eating stale bread, which is a venerable skill that mothers and grandmothers have been honing for generations.
This ever-popular “no knead” method allows me the satisfaction of baking my own bread, seemingly from pennies and dust at home, and it’s low maintenance enough to actually integrate into my weekly routine. Armed with a loaf of this, go forth and put everything on it, and it in everything.
Bread and Butter with Sea Salt
I’m not going to tell you this is dinner. But I won’t tell you it isn’t, either.
Leek, Pancetta, and Gruyere Bread Pudding
The basic idea here is to soak stale bread laced with goodies (I used caramelized leeks and crispy pancetta) in custard for a brief 15 minutes, then bake. I layer my bread and fillings in the baking dish (beginning and ending with grated gruyere cheese because: cheese), and then pour the custard base over it. As it bakes, it puffs, almost soufflé like. It comes out crispy with an eggy interior, creamy and studded with whatever goodies you added. Have milk, eggs, bread, and odds & ends in the fridge? This dish is made for you.
This is a flawless food, and one with endless possibilities. I love ricotta with mint and thinly shaved zucchini, grilled or marinated sardines with red onion and garbanzo beans, grilled eggplant and red peppers with capers, and caramelized onion and blue cheese. When it comes to bruschetta, I take my cues from the season and from what’s on hand.
A sandwich you have to eat with a fork and knife is a meal indeed. Serve it hot out of the oven with creamy, bubbling mornay and a fried egg (or, ahem, two), alongside a bright celery leaf and parsley salad. Add a glass of iced herbal tea, and this meal will win you the undying affection of whomever you serve it to, yourself included. Recreate this classic with some ham and Swiss -- no need to reinvent the wheel here.
This Italian soup is thickened with bread and traditionally contains Tuscan kale and cannellini beans, but I swap in collards and black eyed peas for a little Southern charm. Topping it with some salty chopped olives and a grating of parm or grana padano is clutch. And redundancy be damned, I like my bread soup with more bread on the side.
Bread salad is much more than the sum of its parts. Toasty, crusty bread cubes soak up the dressing and flavor of anything you toss in. Got leftover bruschetta toppings? Throw them in. Meats and cheeses? The’ll want to party, too. The only rules are toasty cubes of bread, a bright vinaigrette, and patience -- it has to sit for a while so that flavors can mingle. I like mine best with fresh veggies, thinly sliced shallot, capers, chili flakes, and a bare bones red wine vinaigrette that involves a little Dijon, tons of fresh garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper.
We’re all adults here, right? Which means if we want French toast for dinner, we can have French toast for dinner. I like it simple with nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla. Booze plays nice too, especially bourbon. Here I went for sherry vinegar strawberries and honeyed mascarpone, but you can use your favorite in-season fruits. I’m also a big fan of whipped crème fraîche in situations like these, and this one time, I put condensed milk on it. (It would also be great with coconut milk or fried in coconut oil.) You’re already having French toast for dinner, so go ahead. This is no time to be reasonable.
Makes 1 10-inch round loaf
3 cups bread flour (400 grams)
1 1/4 teaspoon salt (8 grams)
1/4 teaspoon instant or other active dry yeast ( 1 gram)
1 1/3 cup cool (55-65 degrees F) water (300 grams)
Wheat bran, cornmeal, or additional flour for dusting
Photos by Beth Kirby