Despite my best intentions to keep bread fresh, I sometimes wait too long to make French toast or freeze it, and it’s beyond pleasantly crisp. This often happens with supermarket baguettes, which are irresistible when recently baked at midday, but rubbery by the evening and hard enough to break teeth by the following day.
I usually toss such bread into a cloth bag in my kitchen to make bread crumbs “someday.” But, admittedly, these hard bits often end up in the trash can, eventually, in moments of clutter-clearing frenzy.
At least they used to, for I’ve recently discovered a new favorite way to use bread that is past the French toast window—the painssaladière.
Like the pissaladière, the traditional Provençal tart, this version consists of a thin crust topped with heaps of sweet, slow-cooked onions and briny olives and anchovies. But in the case of the painssaladière, the crust is made with recycled stale bread (hence the French word for bread, pain, in the name).
Now I keep all of my odd bits of stale bread until I have enough to make a painssaladière.
A second life for unsold baguettes
More than a revelation and waste-saving measure in my home kitchen, this recipe also reflects a growing trend in France, where bakers are joining efforts to reduce boulangerie waste.
In this episode of the recommendable French food podcast, On va déguster (where I discovered the painssaladière), journalist Estérelle Payany reports on initiatives to reduce the over 50,000 tons of unsold bread destined for the trash heap in France every year.
The Kolectou project, for instance, has recuperated nearly 30 tons (and counting) of unsold bread via TADAAM, a cake mix of sorts made with ground recycled bread for professional and home bakers alike.
Expliceat, another French zero-waste initiative, has recycled countless baguettes with its patented bread-recycling machine, le Crumbler (love it). Around France, a growing number of bakers are turning their unsold bread into cookies, muffins, tart crusts, and new breads—converting literally tons of would-be waste into an income source—thanks to le Crumbler. “It’s the best investment I’ve made in my thirty years in the profession,” says one happy baker.
I think about these bakers and le Crumbler as I grind up stale bread for my painssaladière and can’t help but smile.
Painssaladière – Recycled Bread & Onion Tart
For the onions
- 3½ lb. (1.5 kg) yellow or white onions
- 1 bay leaf
- Extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
- Leaves of 3 sprigs thyme and 1 sprig fresh rosemary, finely chopped (see Notes)
- 3 anchovy fillets, finely chopped, or 1 tbsp colatura di alici (optional)
For the crust
- 4½ oz. (125 g) stale bread (see Notes)
- 1 cup (250 ml) whole milk or water
- 3 tbsp (30 g) flour
- ½ cup (50 g) grated hard cheese (see Notes)
- 1 tsp herbes de Provence or another herb (optional)
- 1 egg
For the topping
- Black olives, pitted or not
- Drained anchovy fillets (optional)
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- Salt and pepper
Prepare the onions
- Thinly slice the onions.
- Place the onions in a Dutch oven with the bay leaf, a few pinches of salt, and a generous drizzle of olive oil, if you like (see Notes). Cover and cook over very low heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, jammy and lightly golden, 1-2 hours (depending on the burner strength). Uncover toward the end of the cooking time to allow excess liquid to evaporate. (Don't reduce too much, though, as the onions will continue to cook in the oven.)
- Stir in the herbs and season with salt and pepper.
- Stir in the anchovies or colatura di alici, if using.
Prepare the crust
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC) and grease a 12-inch (30-cm) tart pan with parchment paper. (I tried greasing the pan with oil as per the original recipe, and the tart stuck to the pan).
- Cut or break the bread into big pieces and soak it in the milk for 15 minutes, until more or less softened. Stir and break up the bread more as necessary to ensure even soaking.
- Drain any excess liquid (I’ve never had any), then process until smooth in a food processor or blender.
- Stir in the flour and grated cheese until well incorporated. Add the herbes de Provence, if using. Taste for salt, then stir in the egg.
- Spread the batter across the base of your tart pan in a more-or-less even layer with the back of a spoon or by pressing with plastic wrap—the batter is quite sticky.
- Blind-bake the crust for about 15 minutes, until completely set and lightly golden around the edges.
- Remove from the oven and cover with the onions.
- Arrange the olives over the top. If you’re using anchovies, you can add them here, too—I personally prefer to add them after baking.
- Bake for 30–40 minutes, until the onions and crust are golden.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.
- The times I’ve made this tart, I haven’t had the fresh herbs on hand, so have used about 1 tsp of herbes de Provence with good results.
- I suppose you could use all shades of stale bread here, from slightly stale to hard as a rock. I’ve always used the latter. And I’ve only used French-type breads in the recipe, rather than sandwich bread, but it’s worth a try. Combinations of white and multigrain breads work well, too.
- As for the cheese, I’ve always used Parmesan, because that’s what I typically have on hand, but the original recipe suggests cheeses like Cantal, Salers and sheep’s milk Tomme.
- The original recipe says to cook the onions in their own juices without adding oil, but I always add a good drizzle.