Making your own croutons turns a good salad into a great salad. This crouton recipe is intended to garnish a caesar salad but will work on almost anything.
- 4 cloves garlic (minced very fine)
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 (8-ounce) loaf French baguette or similar style bread (for best results, use day-old bread)
- 3/4 cup finely grated "real" Parmesan cheese (sold as Parmigiano-Reggiano)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (freshly ground)
Combine the garlic and olive oil in a small mixing bowl. Let sit out at room temperature for at least 4 hours to infuse.
Preheat oven to 300 F.
Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes and add to a large mixing bowl. Add 1/2 cup of the cheese, dried herbs, paprika, salt, black pepper and cayenne. Strain the garlic oil over the bread cubes, pressing the garlic with the back of a spoon to get every drop of garlicky goodness. Toss with a spatula until the bread is evenly coated.
Pour the mixture onto a baking sheet and place in the preheated over for 15 minutes. Remove, and stir the croutons, as the ones on the outside will cook faster than those in the center. Return to oven, and cook for 15 more minutes.
Remove from oven, and sprinkle the last 1/4 of cheese over the croutons. Return to oven, and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until browned and crunchy. Allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.