Baker Rick Easton exploits bread's properties to use up a loaf

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"We tend to have limited imaginations as to what to do with a loaf of bread," says baker Rick Easton. Photo by Johnny Fogg.

"We don't think of bread as an ingredient," says Rick Easton, baker and co-owner of Bread and Salt in Jersey City. Often, bread is an accompaniment to the main dish or a nibble before a meal or a fetishsized object on social media. But what about bread as a building block in a dish?

A quote by cookbook author Paula Wolfert has stuck with Easton  — "Letting bread go stale is one of the slowest forms of cooking in the world." That inspired him when he was developing his book, Bread and How to Eat It, which he co-wrote with Melissa McCart.

One recipe that relies on bread as an ingredient is friselle, a staple in Southern Italy. A dried bread product that can be eaten in a number of ways, it's traditionally made with a low hydration dough. Twice-baked, it's often shaped into small rounds. The lore is that sailors would take friselle on journeys and rehydrate it with seawater. In the general category of rusks, friselle makes a great landing pad for salads, soups, beans, or lentils. "It's a bread that's designed to be old," Easton says.

An irregular loaf can be used in pieces for croutons and in meatballs made with bread. Torn and smashed, it can be used in a variety of preparations. 

Pancotto al pomodoro is a Tuscan dish using tomato and bread that becomes a porridge. Photo by Johnny Fogg

"We don't think of bread as an ingredient," says Rick Easton, baker and co-owner of Bread and Salt. Photo by Johnny Fogg.

The inspiration for Eaton's book, Bread and How to Eat It, co-authored byMelissa McCart, comes from his experience with customers who were willing to pay $6 for toast but balked at the cost of a $10 loaf.

Bread and How to Eat It
offers up ways to use a loaf that go beyond toast. Photo courtesy of Knopf.