The Brave Little Toast
Toast has probably been around for as long as there were people well-fed enough to let bread get stale, and other people hungry enough to want to find a palatable way to eat it. Toasted bread also holds together better than the fresher, fluffier stuff, making it good for transporting soups and dips from bowl to mouth. So it’s not surprising that over time it’s appeared in many popular forms:
- Toast the bread enough and you get biscotti, a food so dry the Romans used it for military rations. Slice and roast the bread and you get bruschetta.
- Cut the bread up into cubes, season them and either bake or fry (yes, you can fry them in butter) and you get croutons, which whether topping salad or French onion soup have been with us since at least the 17th century.
- About the same time came the invention of the crunchy treat we now know as pretzels — the original pretzels, which were accidentally overbaked to produce the hard variety, had to get the “soft” qualifier much the way “snail mail” was named after the advent of email.
- As a kid, I always loved Melba Toast, which actually looked like miniature pieces of toasted bread. Invented in the late 1800s, I knew them as the yummy crunchy crackery things you got when you scraped all the yucky grown-up toppings off.
- More recently, New York City’s huge supply of leftover bagels started getting toasted into bagel chips. And in 1997 a social worker named Stacy Madison made chips from some of the pitas from her sidewalk sandwich business to continue the long history of making a snack by toasting whatever form of stale bread is handy.
What I find interesting about all these different forms of stale, toasted bread is the different price points they occupy. For example, there are two pretty much identical forms of seasoned bread cubes: in the produce section, $2 will get me a five ounce bag of salad croutons. But for about the same price I can get a huge sack of seasoned stuffing — especially around Thanksgiving — that works just as well in soups and salads as the stuff that comes in the shiny metallized bag.
Which brings me to my latest obsession, pita chips.
Now flatbread is older than the bible, and is probably the least expensive kind of bread to make, needing no utensils or even an oven to produce. Yet at about $3 for an eight-ounce bag, Stacy’s Pita Chips — now owned by Pepsi — ranks among the costliest of salty, chippy, snacky foods (I can get a two-pound bag of pretzels for less) and represents quite a markup from their unbaked origins. But they’re very tasty: I consider Stacy’s the gold standard, though I’ve found slightly less expensive versions, like the CVS store brand, to be very good as well.
So partly out of curiosity but mostly because I’m cheap, I decided to try my hand at making my own pita chips. I’ve had good luck with homemade bagel chips and bruschetta in the past, so I didn’t think these would give me much trouble and I was right.
- Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Take six pitas — I used whole wheat though plain white ones, while perhaps less nutritious, would be tastier — and split each one into two rounds. Running a knife around the edge first is the only way I have ever learned to split pitas without hopelessly mangling them.
- Brush each side of each pita half with a mixture of olive or canola oil and garlic salt and lay them out on cookie sheets.
- Use a pizza wheel or a knife to cut each into quarters.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until browned, turning several times. Remove from cookie sheet and set on a wire rack to cool.
These got many compliments at my son’s graduation party where I served them with some black bean hummus — store bought, because I’d had enough experimenting in the kitchen for one day.