Deliciously easy ways to do great homemade croutons, crostini and macadamia-encrusted tilapia.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Americans are kings of convenience. We expect things streamlined and neatly packaged. Cheese is not only sold in blocks and wheels, as it is made, but sliced, shredded, crumbled, or breaded, in spreads, strings, and sticks. Whole chickens are hopelessly outnumbered by nuggets, fingers, tenders, wings, pot pies and packaged parts. Don’t even get me started on the potato.
It’s no wonder local markets have become sprawling megastores, accommodating the multitude of prepared foods that were once made at home from basic ingredients.
Sometimes the desire for convenience is absurd. We lament bread gone stale, yet we purchase croutons and breadcrumbs bundled in plastic and cardboard.
Wait a minute… Isn’t a crouton just a piece of stale bread? Aren’t breadcrumbs just really small pieces of stale bread? Perhaps we’ve taken convenience too far. It’s time to put the “home” back in homemade.
Take yesterday’s half-enjoyed baguette and remove the crusts. Tear the remainder into 1/2-inch pieces and spread them out on a baking sheet. Bake them at 250° for around 45 minutes, or until completely dry. Pulse them in a food processor until reduced to fine crumbs. Breadcrumbs. It’s that simple.
Cut those day-old rolls into 3/4-inch cubes, crusts and all. Melt some butter in a large sauté pan, drop in the bread, and toss to coat evenly. Sprinkle them with your favorite mix of spices and herbs (I like paprika, dill, garlic, curry, salt, and pepper, but experiment to find the combination you most enjoy), and bake them at 350° for 10 minutes, stirring them around once or twice. Crunchy, seasoned croutons have never been so easy.
Slice that leftover loaf 1/4-inch thick on the bias (at an angle). Dunk both sides in melted butter, bake 5 minutes per side at 350° (careful not to overbrown), and voilà, homemade crostini.
The crostini is key to a delightful bruschetta appetizer. Place freshly diced tomatoes, minced garlic, chopped basil, olive oil, salt and pepper in a bowl and stir gently. Spoon the mixture over each crostini, top with grated mozzarella cheese, and bake at 350° for 5 minutes or until the cheese has softened. Drizzle with balsamic gastrique (balsamic vinegar gently simmered until its volume is slowly reduced by about three quarters, yielding a slightly thick sauce packed with flavor), and enjoy! Remember to experiment with the toppings. Go Mediterranean with tomatoes, kalamata olives, pine nuts, and feta cheese, or All-American with crumbled burger (first seasoned, browned, and drained), bacon bits, and cheddar cheese. The possibilities are endless.
For the salad course, combine your favorite greens and vegetables as usual, and then top them with your homemade croutons. Instead of using bottled dressing, whip up your own vinaigrette. For example, whisk 1/3 cup lemon juice (Meyer lemons are especially tasty), 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons of chopped tarragon or basil, and 1 teaspoon salt. Homemade can quickly replace store-bought while upping flavor.
Breadcrumbs also elevate an inexpensive and sustainable entrée of pan-fried, macadamia-encrusted tilapia with homemade tartar sauce. Put 1 cup all-purpose flour in a shallow bowl and season with your choice of spices. In another bowl, whisk two eggs and 2 tablespoons milk briskly. Pulse 1 cup (unsalted) macadamias in a food processor until finely chopped, and then combine with 1 cup breadcrumbs in a third bowl.
Lightly coat the tilapia filets with the seasoned flour, shaking off excess. Quickly douse them in the egg wash, and then coat both sides with the bread crumb/mac-nut mixture, lightly pressing the coating into the fish.
Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the coated filets, and fry for 3-5 minutes per side (depending on thickness), being careful not to overbrown.
While the fish is cooking, melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a small skillet, add the remaining bread/nut mixture and sauté over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture soaks up the butter, browns, and becomes slightly crunchy.
When the filets flake apart with a fork, remove to warm plates and top with a spoonful of the sautéed bread crumb/mac nut mixture and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Serve with quasi-homemade tartar sauce, a breeze to make by combining mayonnaise with dill relish. Jazz it up by adding curry powder, paprika, dill, ginger, white pepper, ground mustard, maybe a dab of sour cream or Dijon, a few capers, and diced red pepper for color. Experimenting is the key. No more plastic tubs of bland white goo from our childhood fish fry.
Now you have a three course meal that will impress your friends, especially when you tell them how many items you made from scratch and how yesterday’s bread didn’t go to waste.
More importantly, you’ll save money, eat healthier, consume less prepackaged food and chemicals, create less waste, enjoy more flavorful meals, and hopefully, have more fun in the kitchen.
And as you begin to examine your grocery shopping choices, you’ll find more opportunity to make bread, pasta, stock, soup, sauces, and salad dressing at home. It may not be the convenience you’re used to, but it sure tastes and feels good.