Jalapeno Cheddar Croutons

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Spend a few minutes with Matt Funiciello and the conversation will soon turn to wheat. The heritage varieties of wheat being planted in Québec. An organic grain farmers’ meeting. The 250,000 pounds of New York grown and milled wheat he uses at the Rock Hill Bakery in Moreau. A second theme in the conversation will be the important role farmers’ markets play in local, sustainable agriculture.

“Most of the New York wheat we buy comes from North Country Farms in Watertown who also mill the wheat,” Matt said. The group of farmers used to sell their grain into the conventional commodity market, but now it mostly supplies select New York outlets.

Matt’s passion for baking traces back to his childhood on his father’s small farmstead in Wilton, and later in Ottawa where he worked in a supermarket bakery. The bread dough was not mixed and raised in-house but came frozen to be thawed, allowed to rise, and then baked. “I like to refer to these as ‘fakeries,’” he chuckles.

From there the conversation shifts from wheat to bread, real bread, Rock Hill Bread, which his company has been offering at the Saratoga Springs’ (Summer) Farmers’ Market for about ten years. Matt says that farmers’ markets are important to the decentralization of agriculture. “The answer to good food lies not in putting organic foods in big-box stores, which is just another version of the centralization of large farms, but in the food grown locally and sustainably, and sold in many farmers’ markets.”

Michael and Wendy London, well known proprietors of Mrs. London’s Bake Shoppe on Broadway, began Rock Hill breads in their farmhouse kitchen in the Town of Greenwich, after their original bakery and café on Phila Street had closed. Matt, with his brother Josh and others worked there from about 1987, and then partnered with the Londons in 1990.

In 1994, Matt moved Rock Hill Bakery to Moreau. Farmers’ markets were a key to their success in the early days and still are. “We were at Union Square Market in New York City 25 years ago when there were only five vendors, and today there are as many as 150.” As Upstate residents became more knowledgeable about food and more interested in buying local, the business has focused on farmers’ markets and restaurants closer to home.

Matt values being in the Saratoga Farmers’ Market, noting that the City government wants it to be there. “It’s wonderful that Saratoga is progressive enough to truly value its farmers’ market and to be a part of making it better every year.”

The customers also value Rock Hill’s presence with its yeast raised and sour dough breads and pastries like scones and biscotti which are also produced in the bakery’s two French brick ovens. New York Magazine has called their sourdough bread the most flavorful in Manhattan, and last year, New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton called their rye bread the best in New York City.

Rock Hill’s breads are naturally leavened, using different starters and some uncultivated yeasts. “It’s a long, slow, gentle process to make these breads,” Matt said. A typical ‘day’ begins around four p.m., when they make four different starters. About five hours later, they begin mixing the starters into more flour, water and salt, and put two more starters to work.

The ‘bench crew’ arrives at 3 a.m. to cut the risen dough into loaf-sized pieces and gently shape them into loaves, which proof for one to six hours depending on the bread. Faster rising breads go into the ovens around four a.m. The final bake of the day occurs around 4 p.m., a full 24 hours after the crew made the starter the previous day.

Every Saturday from May through October the fresh-baked bread and the pastries arrive at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market. Matt emphasizes simplicity in the bread and in the foods he eats. This recipe for croutons to add to a salad will convince even the pickiest eater that salads are delicious.

 

Jalapeno Cheddar Croutons Spice up Tonight’s Tossed Salad

Ingredients  (Ingredients marked * are available at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market.)

Click here to print the recipe – PDF

2 thick slices Rock Hill jalapeno-cheddar bread, cut into cubes *

4 tbsp good extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt to taste

2 cloves minced garlic, or more or less to taste *

Fresh, chopped dill

Mixed salad greens *

 

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan on medium.

Add the garlic and a pinch of salt, cook for about 30 seconds.

Add the cubed bread, turn as needed, and cook until all sides are browned.

Drain the croutons on a wooden cutting board.

Toss croutons in a bowl with fresh dill and salt to taste.

Toss the salad greens with olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice.

While the croutons are still warm, put them on top of the salad.