Soft and tender on the inside, firm and crusty on the outside, nothing accentuates an Italian-style meal better than a warm hunk of fresh Italian bread served with olive oil or butter. For the best flavor and texture, purchase Italian bread the same day you plan to eat it because Italian bread becomes dry and stale quickly.
Bringing it Home
Purchase only whole loaves. The life of Italian bread is short and becomes even shorter once the bread is sliced. Use the bread as soon as possible, and then store leftover bread immediately in a large, resealable plastic bag. The plastic keeps the inside of the bread tender and softens the crust for up to two days. When you're ready to use the bread, heat it in a warm oven or slice the bread and heat it in the toaster. As soon as the bread is heated, the outside regains its crusty texture.
Italian bread is best served on a cutting board. Use a sharp bread knife to cut off only the portion you plan to use, and then slice the bread or tear it into serving-size hunks. Turn the remainder of the loaf upright on the cutting board with the cut edge facing down. This allows the bread to breathe, which keeps the crust crusty and the inside soft and tender.
If you bring a loaf of fresh Italian bread home and discover you can't use the bread immediately, freeze the bread and heat it later. Packaged securely, Italian bread maintains its quality in the freezer for up to three months. Wrap the loaf tightly in heavy-duty aluminum foil, and then place the bread in a resealable plastic bag. Alternatively, double bag the bread in two resealable bags. On serving day, let the bread thaw at room temperature or heat it in a preheated oven.
Slightly Stale Italian Bread
Don't let delicious Italian bread go to waste even if the bread is past its prime, as slightly stale Italian bread makes delicious croutons for use in salads or soups. To make croutons, spread the bread with olive oil or melted butter. Cut the bread into cubes, and then add your choice of seasonings. For example, sprinkle the bread with onion or garlic salt or a combination of dried Italian herbs such as oregano, parsley or basil. Heat the croutons, stirring occasionally, until the bread is lightly and evenly brown. To turn the croutons into Italian breadcrumbs, grind the croutons in a food processor or blender.
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