The Forgotten Loaf

Unlike us, our frugal friends over in France, Italy and Spain are huge fans of bread that is stale. We, on the other hand, throw away more bread nowadays than any other food, which is such a shame, when you consider how many delicious dishes can be conjured up from the stuff.
Bread loves to absorb moisture and flavour when it's stale, much more than when it's fresh. For centuries, the Italians have been using bread that is three or more days old in soups and salads. Big chunks of a white yeast loaf soak up the hearty rustic flavours in a classic Tuscan ribollita, opposite. Meanwhile, panzanella offers toasted bread that's a few days old as the real body in an otherwise light, crunchy salad.
One of my favourite ways of using up stale bread is to make French toast. In France, this is called pain perdu, meaning 'lost bread', as it's a way of using up bread that would otherwise be lost. Dip the slices of just-stale bread in whisked egg with a bit of sugar, perhaps a dash of cream and maybe some cinnamon, then fry them in butter on both sides. Just perfect with a cup of milky coffee.
When we were on holiday in the Alps recently, we enjoyed a delicious, very simple lunch of bread, cheese and wine in the way that the French know how to do so well: all together in a gratin dish and cooked till golden and bubbling. A bit like a savoury bread-and-butter pudding, without the eggs and cream. When you're sitting on top of a snowy mountain after a morning's skiing, this is insanely good comfort food at its best.
Ribollita is a wonderfully hearty Tuscan soup of vegetables, bread and beans. It literally means 'twice boiled', or 're-boiled'. I love to use cavolo nero (Tuscan kale) in this recipe, but any other robust greens could also be used, such as the dark green leaves from a head of savoy cabbage, Swiss chard, or even broccoli - I especially love purple sprouting broccoli.

Rachel's Forgotten Loaf Recipes: 

Rachel recommends
For the best stale bread to use in these recipes, it's worth starting with a great loaf. Even recipes with stale bread will taste better if the bread itself was delicious to start with. Any bread from Pana Bakery will not disappoint. Pavel the baker started a couple of years ago in east Cork, selling his delicious hand-made breads to local markets and shops, and just before Christmas, he also opened a fantastic new bakery shop in Merchants Quay Shopping Centre in Cork city. Go there to find every type of artisan bread imaginable. Just a warning: don't leave without a custard and almond brioche!
Rachel's tip
Don't forget that any old bread can be used to make breadcrumbs that can be easily frozen. Just whizz up the slightly stale bread (removing the crusts first, if you wish) in a food processor or liquidiser and use them straight away, or freeze.

Shaneod Apr 13, 2015 News