How to Use Up Leftover Bread

| 4/5/2017 9:23:00 AM

A staggering amount of bread is wasted every year. I live in Austria, and Vienna, the largest city in the country, throws out as much bread as my city, Graz, consumes daily. Enough bread to feed a quarter of a million people is simply wasted. On the other side of the Atlantic, food waste costs America around $165 billion every year, while 25 percent of all the freshwater used in the country goes to produce food that no-one will ever eat.

In the UK, 40 percent of bread produced is thrown away. A fantastic start-up company called Toast is using some of the wasted bread to brew beer. If that’s not witchcraft, then I don’t know what is. Amazing as that may be, I fear it’s a little ambitious for most of us. In an ideal world, we would all have chickens or ducks, and supermarkets would sell or donate any waste bread to local pig farmers, but in many areas, the practice of using stale bread as animal feed is prohibited, and not everyone has space for poultry.

I think that bread is a great place to start looking at reducing our household food wastage. Unlike a piece of meat which has started to go a funny colour or smell a bit iffy, eating stale bread isn’t going to do you any harm. Some of the waste can be reduced by buying types of bread which last longer, the old-fashioned German black breads and sourdough loaves will still be good up to a week after baking, but they can be expensive and are not available everywhere. If you bake your own, adding fat to the dough in the form of butter, lard, cream or full-fat yoghurt may help extend the shelf-life of your bread.

Old-Fashioned Uses for Stale Bread

In the past, grain was a precious resource and no-one would want to waste bread, so some ingenious dishes were developed to use up old bread. Searching through old-fashioned cookbooks turns up a wealth of ideas to use up stale bread. Frying the bread in a little olive oil is a good way to make croutons, which can then be used to top salads and soups, but what about cooking the bread directly in the soup to make a thick and delicious stew-like broth?  

I must admit, I was a little skeptical about this, but then I tried ribbolita. The bread thickens the soup to make it filling enough to be a main course, and through long slow cooking it absorbs all the wonderful flavours. Other delicious bread soups include the traditional Cornish kiddly broth, which is made in a similar way, but with onions, bacon and milk for flavouring instead of the punchy Italian tomato flavours, and the Portuguese bread soup  açorda à alentejana, which is made with plenty of garlic and cilantro, and topped with poached eggs.

French onion soup is not a bread soup like the others, as a slice of toast is floated on the top of each bowl and topped with cheese before being grilled. This is one of my favourite soups, but the key ingredient is a hefty dose of patience. Stew a pound of sliced onions very slowly for up to an hour before adding a glass of red wine and boiling off the alcohol. Use enough strong beef stock to make the thickness that you like and season well with pepper. Although most recipes suggest a piece of baguette, I think it tastes particularly good when a strong dark bread is used as the topping.

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