I think we can all agree that, more often than not, a bowl of soup, a hearty stew, or a saucy braise is only improved by the addition of bread. Sometimes that’s a hunk of freshly baked baguette. Other times a buttery dinner roll. Bread is the staff of life, as they say.
But lately it feels like that phrase should be amended to “fried bread is the staff of life.” Everywhere I look somebody (myself included) is frying a thick slice of sourdough bread in a slick of olive oil until crunchy and golden brown on one side, soft and doughy on the other, and serving it alongside any saucy concoction worthy of soaking. If you’re not one of those people, I urge you to become one. Immediately. Fried bread for life.
How to Make Fried Bread
But, as I recently discovered, fried bread is not necessarily the end-all, be-all of carb-on-soup situations. One day recently, while working on a Basically recipe for ribollita—a thicccc Tuscan vegetable, bean, and bread stew—it occurred to me that there may in fact be a future beyond fried bread. Don’t get me wrong: I love the stuff. But perhaps the lone slice of fried bread, riding shotgun in most cases, could take center stage. An exploration seemed in order, and that already-bready ribollita seemed like the perfect place to start.
Traditionally, Ribollita is made thick and hearty by cooking leftover stale bread directly into a broth-y combination of stewed tomatoes, beans, and other veggies. The bread falls apart and enriches the soup, adding stick-to-your-bones body to the final dish. I like that idea—bread as stew thickening agent. But I was missing the crispity-crunchity quality that fried bread lends, and I didn’t see any reason why I should have to choose one or the other.
Thus, the concept of torn-croutons-baked-directly-into-the-top-of-a-soup was born. Once my glorious, soggy bread-enriched ribollita was almost finished, I covered the entire surface of the stew with irregularly-shaped hunks of crusty sourdough bread and drizzled the whole thing with pleeeeenty of good olive oil. Then I popped the whole Dutch oven into a 450° oven until the the stew is thick and burbling, the tops of those craggy croutons were deeply golden and crisp, and the undersides are soaked in thick tomato-y deliciousness. It’s the best of both worlds—super-crunchy and soggy-rich at the same time—and you don’t even need to dirty another skillet or sheet pan to make it happen. Now that’s living!
Even better? This same technique can be applied to literally anything stewy and thick enough to support the bread. Beef stew. Creamy tomato soup. Minestrone. Lentil soup. Split pea. The crout’-on-soup possibilities are truly endless.
So go on: Crack into that crust like it’s a savory crème brûlée, and tell me you’d rather eat regular ol’ fried bread on the side.