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Breaking bread: How to serve bread as a meal of its own

BY Tamar Adler

14th Jun 2023 Food Heroes

Breaking bread: How to serve bread as a meal of its own

Bread is only bad for you if you let it be so, argues food critic Tamar Adler. In this book extract, we delve in to the best ways to enjoy this ancient carb

In How to Cook a Wolf, MFK Fisher gives the best dietary advice I have read. She says: “Balance the day, not each meal in the day.”

She explains that we can still eat healthfully without trying to get fruit juice, hot or cold cereal, scrambled eggs with bacon, and buttered toast packed into the first meal of the day, and soup, beef, mashed potatoes, lima beans, and Waldorf salad packed into the second, which her contemporaries were.

"It is also called the staff of life, which I like: bread there, all life leaning against it"

Here is her further guidance:

Breakfast then can be toast. It can be piles of toast, generously buttered, and a bowl of honey or jam. You can be lavish because the meal is so inexpensive. You can have fun, because there is no trotting around with fried eggs and mussy dishes.”

She is right. Breakfast can be toast; so can lunch be, or dinner. “Breaking bread” means eating. “Our daily bread” means food.

It is also called the staff of life, which I like: bread there, all life leaning against it. Our lives don’t lean against it anymore: we’ve decided that bread is bad for us. Our staff has broken, and that is part of why our diets seem so hard to get in balance.

Is bread bad for you? In defense of the thick slice

Vegetables on toastFor a balanced diet, sometimes vegetables drizzled with oil on toast can be just the thing

Bread can be the thing you’re eating, not a prelude to the meal, or an afterthought. It is not bad for you. Whether as piles of toast, generously buttered, or thick slices rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil, eating bread with intention is a good dietary strategy.

I can think of no better way to get good, healthy vegetables, lush, ripe, and in season, to the middle of your plate than to let them balance on freshly toasted bread.

"Bread can be the thing you’re eating, not a prelude to the meal, or an afterthought"

Instead of worrying about lots of ingredients with which to trot around, buy a loaf of bread with a hard crust. Pick it based on how enticing it looks, and on how good it smells. Pick something that is round and fat or, if it is oval, that still has good girth at its ends, so you can get a lot of big, healthy pieces out of it.

Make it a loaf that will require slow, deliberate chewing.

Then let the rest of your meal be vegetables. Cut thick slices of bread, drizzle them with oil, and toast them in a hot oven or on a grill. Let them get nicely charred, then rub each slice lightly with the cut side of a clove of raw garlic.

A loaf for every season

Tomatoes and courgettes sliced on toastIn warmer weather, place sliced tomatoes and courgettes on a piece of toast

In autumn, roast a whole butternut squash. Smash it in a bowl with good olive oil, a little freshly grated Parmesan, and a lot of freshly cracked black pepper. Spread the squash thickly on the toast, drizzle it with more olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice, and sprinkle it with roughly chopped toasted almonds.

In winter, sauté Swiss chard or kale in a lot of garlic and olive oil. Top pieces of toast with ricotta or goat's cheese, then piles of garlicky greens. Squeeze each with lemon juice.

In spring, cook peas or asparagus in a little butter and water. Top each toast with a brothy spoonful of vegetables and drizzle it with crème fraîche or sour cream, then a few cracks of black pepper and chopped mint, tarragon or chives.

In summer, thickly slice tomatoes. It’s best if they’re different colours. Lay an array on each slice of toast, salt them well, drizzle each with good olive oil, and top with torn basil. Or roast courgette or aubergine in an oven or on a hot grill, dress it with vinegar when hot, and top the toast with it.

Making each meal go further

Wiping up end of meal with breadRather than reaching for a second helping, mop up the last of your meal with a slice of bread

For people who say that bacon is a vegetable: cook sliced garlic over very low heat in butter and a little water until it is completely tender and stewed. Top toast thickly with stewed garlic, then very thinly sliced bacon or pancetta. Cook each piece of toast under the grill until the meat is crisp and its fat has seeped into the bread.

Use bread to balance your budget as much as your diet. Local vegetables are especially worth their cost if you’re eating them, prepared simply and well, mounded on a big piece of toast. As is good bread. As is the good olive oil you will drizzle, as lavishly as you want.

"Your bread doesn’t have to be in the middle of the plate. But if it is not your meal, let it help you relish what is"

Your bread doesn’t have to be in the middle of the plate. But if it is not your meal, let it help you relish what is.

Choose a piece of good bread instead of a second pork chop or second helping of lasagna. Use it to sop up your chop’s lovely juices or wipe up the last of the lasagna’s sauce.

This will make your meal easier on your stomach as well as your pocket.

Excerpt from An Everlasting Meal—Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler (published by Swift Press) hbk £14.99

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