Don't let stale bread go to waste, and don't toss the final few slices of bread just because you really can't stomach the idea of eating another sandwich. Bread is a culinary vehicle for many different dishes, from desserts to breakfast cups.
Bread cures a lot of ills. Have a random collection of spreads and jams cluttering your fridge? Make toast every day for breakfast, and soon, you'll clear out some shelf space. Unsure what to do with your leftover steak? Saute some peppers and onions, add the steak, and top with provolone cheese for a quick faux Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich. If you can dream it, you can pair it with a piece of bread or two for a truly delicious culinary experience.
From time to time, however, you might find yourself struggling for creative ways to use up half a load of sliced bread or a three-quarters of a stale baguette. We've all been there, which is why this list is pretty exhaustive. From soups to breakfast casseroles, these recipe ideas are all great ways to use up your leftover bread so nothing goes to waste.
- Breadcrumbs: Instead of buying breadcrumbs, make your own. Fill a cookie sheet with the slices of bread, toast in your oven until golden brown. Flip the bread over, and toast until the other side is also golden brown. Let the slices cool and dry out for several hours. In a food processor, blend each piece of bread until you have fine crumbs. You can store them in an air-tight container in your pantry or freezer for longer storage. Breadcrumbs are a great binder for many dishes, including meat loaf and crab cakes.
- Croutons: Stale bread is a crouton lover's delight. Dense bread will work better than soft sandwich bread, but use whatever you have. Place a cookie sheet in the oven while it preheats to 350°F. Cut the bread into 2-inch cubes, and put into a large bowl. Gently toss the cubed bread with olive oil, salt, and pepper until each piece is coated. Remove the preheated sheet pan from the oven, and arrange the bread cubes in a single layer. Bake until golden brown and crusty, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, and let cool entirely before enjoying on your salad. Want to flavor your croutons? Add any assortment of spice and herbs before you toast.
- French Toast: You won't know (or care) that you're using leftover (possibly stale) bread when it's in an eggy, sweet brunch dish like French toast. Combine egg, milk, vanilla extract, a bit of sugar, and a pinch of salt in a shallow dish. Dip each bread slice in the egg mixture, and then sear in a hot skillet until golden brown and crispy on the outside. If you're looking for a casserole version, our Double Berry Cream Cheese French Toast Casserole is a great recipe example you can follow.
- Strata: Another brunch dish we'd be remiss if we didn't suggest it is strata. This casserole is easy to prepare, especially on days you have company and need to impress with little effort. This layered dish is very similar to a quiche or frittata, but you use bread cubes in an egg mixture, instead of at the bottom as a crust. The great thing about strata is, like our Artichoke and Spinach Strata, most are a one-pot meal—so less mess!
- Egg and Toast Cups: Stale toast is barely recognizable when it's all toasty and crunchy. Line a regular muffin cup with half a piece of bread, and cook in a 375°F oven for 5 minutes until the bread is toasted. Crack your egg into a small cup, and gently pour the egg into the cup. Sprinkle with cooked bacon, salt and pepper, and herbs. Bake until the eggs are set, or about 15-20 minutes. Feel free to get creative and use any number of toppings, like cheese, diced tomato, even minced jalapeno.
- Panzanella: Bread salads are a great way to give leftover bread a second life. Panzanella is a classic Italian salad made of tomatoes and bread soaked in tomato juices, vinegar, and olive oil. It's not uncommon to add a protein like steak or shrimp to turn this into a main dish meal.
- Robllita (Italian Bread Soup): Leave it to the Italians to totally nail using up leftover bread. Ribollita is actually a leftover dream. Reheat leftover vegetable soup or minestrone, and simply add chunks of bread. It's better if you have a thick, grainy bread that you've toasted so the pieces retain some texture when in the soup, but any bread will work.
- Romesco Sauce: Romesco is a deliciously vibrant red pepper sauce that's ideal for grilled meats, eggs, sandwiches, and many other dishes. Here's a little secret that I swear by with Romesco: Use a slice of bread to thicken it for a truly luscious sauce. The sauce in our Flank Steak with Romesco Sauce is a good example. You use just 2 slices of bread, but it will make all the difference.
- Crostini: Crostini are perfectly poppable appetizer bites that are an ideal way to use up leftover baguette. Slice 1/2-inch rounds, brush with olive oil, and toast slightly. You can top with any number of spreads or sauces. We like bruschetta for a classic appetizer, but you can mix things up with Sockeye Salmon Crostini or our Green Pea Pesto with Prosciutto.
- Baked Pita Chips: Leftover pita is an opportunity to make crispy pita chips. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Split the pitas in half, and then cut each half into six wedges. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper, and arrange the wedges in alternating lines to fill the baking sheet. Spray the pita wedges with cooking spray and sprinkle with your choice of seasoning mixes. Try salt, cumin, and chile powder for a tasty treat. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until crisp and golden.
- Bread Pudding: Like French toast, a velvety, custardy dessert like bread pudding is a great way to use up leftover bread and impress guests. You can also make a savory bread pudding, like our Savory Bread Puddings with Ham and Cheddar, for a fun breakfast-for-dinner main or a brunch treat for casual weekends.
If all else fails and you just need to use up the end pieces of a loaf or a few slices from the loaf you picked up at the farmers' market, slather it with some softened butter, a hefty spoonful of jam, and call it a day. After all, there's almost nothing a piece of bread can't bring together in perfect plated unison.