It is easy to end up with a bit too much bread. My usual way of using it up is to blitz it to breadcrumbs and freeze it. The crumbs come in for all manner of uses in the kitchen, from cakes and pasta sauces to ice cream.
1 SUNDAY BREAKFAST CAKES
A dish that will stand or fall by the quality of the sausages you choose. I prefer a good old-fashioned butcher's sausage with plenty of pepper and herbs in it. A slightly spicy one would be fun, too. The egg is entirely optional, as are any other ingredients you may want to include, like a little crumbled black pudding in the patties or some fried mushrooms or tomatoes on the side. Essentially a breakfast dish, but I have eaten this as a quick supper on occasion, too.
back or streaky bacon – 250g
good, herby butcher's sausages – 500g
fresh white breadcrumbs – 2 large handfuls
a handful of parsley
thyme leaves – a tbs
oil for frying
eggs – 4 (optional)
Remove and discard the rind from the bacon, then roughly chop the rashers and put them into a food processor. Slit the sausage skins down their length, peel them off and add the sausage meat to the bacon. Blitz briefly to produce a coarse mince. Take care not to overprocess – you want the texture to be quite rough. Tip into a mixing bowl, and add the breadcrumbs, chopped parsley and thyme leaves. Check the seasoning: you may need a little more salt and black pepper, depending on the sausages. Mix well with your hands and shape into 8 thick flattish patties.
If you are frying the patties, then warm a little oil in a non-stick pan, and cook them on each side for about 5 minutes till golden. Check that they are cooked right through to the middle. Drain on kitchen paper. Alternatively, grill them till golden. Fry the eggs in a little oil then slide them onto 4 warm plates with the patties.
2 ORECCHIETTE WITH SARDINES AND BREADCRUMBS
When mixed together at the last minute, this lovely dish of warm pasta, crushed sardines and crisp breadcrumbs is a wonderful jumble of piquant and homely flavours. Even with seriously good sardines it's a cheap dish. I sometimes add a handful of raisins or sultanas to the parsley and caper mixture, too – the occasional bursts of sweetness a good contrast for the capers and lemon. Use any pasta you have to hand.
orecchiette – 250g
parsley – a handful
sardines in olive oil – 250g
capers – 1 heaped tbs
olive oil – extra virgin, 4 tbs
butter – a thick slice
white breadcrumbs – 5 handfuls
Bring a large pan of water to the boil, salt it generously and add the pasta. Leave the pasta to cook for about 9 minutes, till just tender.
While the pasta is cooking, roughly chop the parsley, mash the drained sardines with a fork, finely grate the lemon and squeeze the juice. Gently mix the sardines, parsley, capers and lemon juice, and add the olive oil.
Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the breadcrumbs, and fry till golden and crisp. They will need regular turning in the pan so they do not burn, and maybe a little more butter if they seem to be soaking it all up. Season with salt, black pepper and lemon zest.
Drain the pasta lightly, then return to the empty saucepan. Add the sardine mixture and the toasted breadcrumbs and toss gently. Serve immediately.
3 LEEK, APPLE AND LEMON SOUP
A mild and slightly sweet soup that is surprisingly sustaining. The bread soaks up some of the broth and becomes sodden with flavour. You could use a chicken stock here if you prefer, but a good vegetable stock will let the flavours come through. I sometimes include a spoonful of grated parmesan at the table.
large leeks – 2
butter – a thick slice
a large apple
bay leaves – 2
vegetable stock – a litre
juice of a lemon
parsley – 3 or 4 bushy sprigs
bread – 4 thick slices
Trim the leeks and discard the roots and any tough leaves. Slice the leeks in half lengthways then into thin slices. Put into a colander and rinse very thoroughly.
Melt the butter in a large, deep pan. Add the leeks and cook over a low heat, covered with a lid, until soft. They should not colour and will need a regular stir to stop them browning. Roughly chop the apple, discarding the core as you go. Add the apple to the leeks, add the bay leaves and then the stock. Bring to the boil then turn the heat down to a simmer.
When the leeks and apple are tender, season generously with salt, pepper and the lemon juice. Chop the parsley and stir in. Toast the bread on both sides, place a piece in each of 4 warm bowls, trickle with olive oil then ladle over the soup.
4 WALNUT CARDAMOM CAKE
An unusual cake, using breadcrumbs in lieu of flour. A lovely, shallow, crunchy cake that's not too sweet.
eggs – 6
caster sugar – 150g
shelled walnuts – 250g
fresh white breadcrumbs – 75g
green cardamom pods – 5
the zest of a large orange
For the frosting:
icing sugar – 150g
zest and juice of a clementine or mandarin orange
juice of ½ a lemon
You will also need a square 22cm cake tin lined with very lightly oiled baking paper
Set the oven at 180˚C/Gas 5. Separate the eggs. Put the yolks and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and beat till thick, pale and light. This is likely to take a good 5-10 minutes.
Chop the walnuts. They should be neither roughly chopped nor finely ground, but somewhere in between. Rather like fine gravel, so that the texture of the finished cake is both sponge-like and chewy. Mix them with the breadcrumbs.
Crack open the cardamom pods, discard the papery cases then crush the black seeds finely using a pestle and mortar. Add these to the nuts, together with the grated orange zest.
Beat the egg whites till stiff and frothy. Gently fold the nuts, crumbs and spices into the egg yolk and sugar mixture, then incorporate the beaten egg whites. I do this with a large metal spoon, gently but firmly folding the egg whites in, scooping right down to the base of the mixture. It is essential to mix thoroughly but not to overmix, so that the mixture stays light.
Tip the mixture tenderly into the cake tin, using a rubber spatula so as not to waste a drop, then bake for 30 minutes until firm in the middle. A skewer, pierced in the middle of the cake, should come out without any uncooked mixture on it. Leave to settle in the tin for 15 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack and carefully peeling off the paper.
Make the frosting: put the icing sugar into bowl with the fruit juices and blend till smooth. Stir in the zest. Pour over the cake and leave to set.
5 GOLDEN BREAD AND HAZELNUT ICE
soft, fresh breadcrumbs – 60g
light muscovado sugar – 80g
golden caster sugar – 80g
skinned hazelnuts – 100g
double cream – 250ml
pouring yoghurt – 250ml
Spread the crumbs out on a baking sheet. Scatter over the sugars. Blitz the hazelnuts to coarse gravel in a food processor or chop by hand. Mix everything thoroughly, then spread out in a shallow layer over the baking sheet. Place under a hot grill and leave until the sugar, nuts and crumbs are deep golden. You will need to keep your eye on the job, as the sugar can burn very easily. Leave to cool then break up into small pieces.
Add the sugared crumbs to the cream and yoghurt, pour into an ice-cream machine and churn till frozen. Put into a freezer box and store in the deep freeze till needed. If you have no ice-cream machine, freeze the mixture once you have mixed the cream and crumbs, stirring every hour or so till frozen.