½ 1 ½-pound loaf sourdough bread, cut into ¾-inch cubes
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 ¼ teaspoons granulated garlic
1 ¼ teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon Mexican oregano
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Toss together the bread, oil, granulated garlic, paprika, Mexican oregano, pepper, and cayenne in a large bowl, making sure that the bread cubes are evenly coated. Season generously with salt. Arrange the croutons in a single layer on a baking tray and bake for 22 to 24 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp. Let cool.
Makes enough croutons for several large salads. These are the best croutons ever, even if I do say so myself. They are crisp and infinitely more flavorful than the ones that come in a box, and they’re equally enjoyable with or without a coating of salad dressing. I have to hide them from my husband, or he will eat them all before they ever see a leaf of lettuce. They’re perfect for Caesar salad, and they also make a fantastic soup garnish (I especially like them in tomato soup). Use artisan-style sourdough bread, the kind with a crisp crust, irregular crumb, and tangy flavor; either fresh or day-old is fine. Cut the crust off the bread if you like, but I don’t bother. Dried Mexican oregano, which has a unique floral character, can be found at some gourmet grocers and (usually for less than a dollar) at any Mexican market. If you can’t find it, you can substitute common oregano in this particular recipe. For the best browning, use a heavy baking tray, like the aluminum sheet pans used in restaurants, and be sure not to overcrowd the pan. Croutons keep well for a couple of weeks in a tightly sealed container in the pantry. For parmesan croutons, simply add a handful or two of finely grated Parmegiano-Reggiano when tossing the bread cubes with the oil and spices.