Makes 4 servings
Time 15 minutes
There are times I make soup or a nice big salad just as an excuse to make and eat croutons. You know, the “real” kind that are basically small slices of toast. Or maybe big cubes that stay crunchy a long time (see the variations). Start with good bread—and that might be corn bread, whole grain, or cinnamon-raisin—and good olive oil and you’ll also be a convert.
1/4 cup or more olive oil, plus more if needed
1 clove garlic, smashed (optional)
4 (if large) to 12 (if small) 1/2-inch-thick slices good bread
Salt and pepper
1. Put the oil and garlic if you’re using it in a skillet large enough to accommodate the bread in one layer and turn the heat to medium. (If you don’t have a big enough pan you may need to work in batches, although it’s okay if the slices touch.) When the oil shimmers and the garlic sizzles, add the bread.
2. When the bread browns lightly on the bottom, turn to brown the other side; this will take 5 to 10 minutes total. If the pan dries out (which it likely will), add more olive oil. When the second side is browned, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and remove the croutons from the pan. (Leave the garlic behind.) Use right away, or let cool and store in an airtight container for up to 1 day.
Cubed Croutons: I like the crust left on: Instead of slicing the bread, cut about 8 ounces from a whole loaf into 1⁄2-inch to 1-inch cubes. (Or if you already have slices, cut into squares.) In Step 1, cook them in the oil, tossing occasionally, sprinkling with salt and pepper, and adding more oil as needed, until lightly browned and crisp all over, 10 to 15 minutes.
Herbed Croutons: Best with cubes: As the bread browns, stir in about 1⁄4 cup finely minced parsley, dill, or chervil, or a combination.
Highly Seasoned Croutons: Season with plenty of pepper, along with about 1 teaspoon chili powder or curry powder or storebought ancho chile powder.
Dry-Baked Croutons: Perfect for large batches; when kept in an airtight container, these will stay crunchy for at least a week. Plus, there’s no fat: Omit the oil and garlic. Use bread slices, as in the main recipe, or cubes as in the first variation. Heat the oven to 400°F. Spread the bread out on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake the croutons, undisturbed, until they begin to turn golden, about 15 minutes. Turn the slices or shake the pan to roll the cubes around a bit. Continue baking until they’re the desired color, 5 to 15 minutes more. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, or other seasoning, if you like.