I have a serious thing for croutons. In fact, my favorite kind is so good that I like to whip up a batch for snacking purposes only–no salad required.
Let me explain: Most croutons are crunchy through and through, but these are designed to be crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle–far better for munching out of hand (or as a complement to tender salad leaves) than the hard, desiccated store-bought kind.
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The croutons are inspired by panzanella, the Italian dish in which stale pieces of bread are reconstituted in water and squeezed of excess moisture before being mixed with salad ingredients.
They’re easy to make: Start by cutting airy, chewy ciabatta bread into bite-size cubes, then sprinkle the pieces with a little water and salt before toasting them to golden, crisp-chewy perfection in an oil-slicked skillet.
It gets better: For snack-worthy flavor, toss the still-hot cubes with a paste of raw garlic and extra-virgin olive oil and dust them with nutty grated Parmesan cheese.
How to Make Chewy-Crispy Garlic-Parmesan Croutons
1. Combine 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil and ¾ teaspoon finely grated garlic in small bowl; set aside.
2. Place ½ - ¾ loaf ciabatta (or similar rustic, crusty loaf), cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 5 cups) in large bowl.
3. Sprinkle bread with ¼ cup water and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss, squeezing gently so bread absorbs water.
4. Place 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and soaked bread cubes in 12-inch nonstick skillet. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until browned and crisp, 7 to 10 minutes.
5. Remove skillet from heat, push croutons to sides of skillet to clear center, add garlic/oil mixture to clearing and cook with residual heat of pan, 10 seconds.
6. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese; toss until garlic and Parmesan are evenly distributed. Transfer croutons to bowl.
The Science Behind Chewy-Crispy Croutons
Adding water to the bread cubes gelatinizes its starch, simultaneously breaking it down to glucose. As the croutons toast in the skillet, the gelatinized starch turns crispy on the exterior but remains tender within. And the glucose? Like all sugars, it hastens browning–a good thing when it comes to croutons.
If you give the croutons a try, be sure to find a good place to stash them: These little beauties are so good that you’ll need to hide them from pilfering fingers.