One loaf of bread, four meals
Use one principal ingredient, eat for days. Here are four delicious meals made with the most humble household staple: a loaf of bread
Good bread ages well. Of course it gets firmer and tougher, but these are exactly the qualities that make it so good for cooking with. A big loaf, prepped on a Sunday, provides a headstart on four excellent meals for four people.
To prepare the bread
You need an 800g–1kg loaf of day-old, good-quality bread. To make the crumbs for the pasta with breadcrumbs, cut away the crusts and put them on a baking tray in a oven preheated to 160C/325F/gas mark 3 for 10 minutes or until they are crisp and dry. Smash coarsely with a rolling pin. Cut the rest of the bread into three pieces: two weighing about 250g each for the gnocchi and soup, and a smaller piece, about 150g, for the pudding.
1 The classic pasta
Spaghetti with anchovy crumbs
Anchovy crumbs are simply breadcrumbs fried until golden and crisp in a mixture of butter and olive oil into which you have melted anchovy fillets. It’s a perfect example of the umami flavour. I like anchovy crumbs on salad, sprouting broccoli, fish and – best of all – tossed with spaghetti.
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
A generous knob of butter
8 anchovies in oil, drained; or 4 salt-packed anchovies, cleaned and boned
A big handful of breadcrumbs
400g spaghetti or linguine Black pepper
A handful of finely chopped parsley (optional)
1 Bring a large pan of water to a fast boil over a high heat. Salt the water, stir, then add the pasta and cook, stirring from time to time, until al dente.
2 Warm the oil and butter in a frying pan or skillet over a medium-low heat. After a minute, add the anchovies and nudge them gently around the pan until they disintegrate and dissolve into the oil. Add the breadcrumbs, raise the heat a little and fry until the crumbs have absorbed all the anchovy-infused fat and are golden and crisp. Remove from the heat and keep warm.
3 Drain the pasta and tip into a bowl. Sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and parsley if you are using it, grind over a little black pepper, toss and serve immediately with a glass of cold, white wine with enough acidity to hold its own against the anchovies.
2 Knockout gnocchi
Gnocchi di pane – bread dumplings with butter, sage and parmesan
Gnocchi is the Italian name for dumplings and they can be made of potatoes, ricotta, semolina, polenta, vegetables and – as I recently discovered – bread. The idea might sound rather plain and simple, and it is – but deliciously so, especially when the gnocchi are dressed up with plenty of sage and butter sauce and freshly grated parmesan. You could also serve
Gnocchi can be made with potatoes, ricotta, semolina, polenta, vegetables and – as I recently discovered – bread
these gnocchi with simple, smooth tomato and basil sauce.
250g stale bread, without crusts
150ml whole milk
100g plain flour (plus a little extra)
40g freshly grated parmesan
Salt, pepper and nutmeg, to taste
6 whole fresh sage leaves
1 Tear the bread, put it in a bowl, cover with milk and leave it to sit for 10 minutes or so. Using your fingers, crumble the milky bread and then squeeze away the excess milk.
2 Mix together, using your hands, the bread, eggs, flour, parmesan, a pinch of salt, a grind of pepper and a good grating of nutmeg. The mixture should be sticky; however, if it is feeling unmanageable, add a little more flour.
3 With floury hands, mould the mixture into small walnut-size balls and put on a lightly floured board. Using the back of a fork, gently flatten each ball, leaving a light fork imprint.
4 In a small pan, melt the butter over a low heat, add the sage leaves, raise the heat to medium and allow them to sizzle until they change colour, which usually takes about a minute. Remove the pan from the heat and keep warm.
5 You are going to poach the gnocchi rather than boil them. Bring a deep pan of water to the boil, add salt, then reduce the heat slightly so the water is still boiling but not aggressively. Drop the gnocchi into the water. Once they bob to the surface they are ready.
6 Lift out with a slotted spoon on to a warm serving dish, pour over the sage butter and top with more grated parmesan.
3 A satisfying soup
Tomato and bread soup (Pappa al pomodoro)
Made with good, flavoursome tomatoes, decent extra virgin olive oil, good old bread and fresh basil, pappa
al pomodoro, or bread and tomato soup, is delicious, and for many Italians a quintessential summer dish. As with English bread sauce, pappa (which literally translated means “mush”) is special for the way the bread sops up the liquid and the starch molecules expand and change character, forming a soft creamy mass. The dish originates in Tuscany and Tuscans will tell you it can only be made with unsalted Tuscan bread (it is particularly good). I make it often with two- or three-day-old sourdough and I think it works well. It can be eaten hot, warm or cold.
100ml extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 celery stalk, diced
1 large red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1kg ripe tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
A pinch of salt A pinch of red pepper flakes
250g stale bread, without crusts
2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
A handful of basil, roughly torn
1 Warm half the oil in a heavy-based pan, add the onion and celery and fry gently until soft and translucent. Add the tomatoes to the pan. Add a pinch of salt and another of red pepper flakes and then simmer for 20 minutes.
2 If the bread is still soft enough, tear it into pieces with your fingers; if it is hard, dampen with water, squeeze and then use your fingers to tear/crumble it into smallish pieces. Add the bread to the tomato mix, along with the garlic and basil. Leave over a low heat for another 5 minutes, adding some water if the mixture seems too stiff. Remove from the heat. Allow to sit for 10 minutes and then serve with more olive oil poured over the top.
4 A delectable dessert
Queen of puddings
A bottom of set custard thickened with breadcrumbs and scented with lemon, topped with a layer of raspberry jam and finished with a meringue hat.
150g bread without crusts Zest of an unwaxed lemon (or two if you really like lemon)
2 tsp caster sugar
550ml whole milk
3–5 tbsp raspberry jam
125g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 Crumble the bread with your fingers and place the crumbs, lemon zest and 2 tsp of caster sugar in a bowl. Rub together with your fingertips so the lemon zest really flavours the crumbs.
2 Warm the milk and butter over a low heat until the butter melts and the milk is hot but not boiling. Pour the milk over the crumbs and leave to steep for 10 minutes. Once 10 minutes are up, beat in the egg yolks.
3 Butter an oven dish (about 10cm deep, 25cm diameter) and pour in the custard. Bake at 160C/325F/gas mark 6 for 20–30 minutes (depending on the depth of the dish) or until the custard is set on top, but runny underneath. Take the custard out of the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes.
4 Meanwhile, warm the jam along with a tablespoon of water until runny then pour and spread over the surface of the custard.
5 Beat the egg whites until stiff and then fold in the sugar with a metal spoon. Cover the pudding with meringue and then bake for another 20 minutes or so or until the meringue is firm and the peaks golden and crisp.