2.16.16 Crumb It Up

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photos by gluttonforlife

If necessity is the mother of invention, then hunger must be its father. Rooting around in the kitchen with dinner on your mind, you might come across a crust of bread or a handful of rice and, suddenly, inspiration strikes. So it must have been long ago in Sicily, on a day when cheese was scarce, that some creative cook decided to fry breadcrumbs in good olive oil and toss them onto hot pasta. Eureka! While I can't deny the richly savory merits of Parmesan, I'm equally enthralled by the oily, garlicky crunch of this humble garnish. Scatter it with abandon atop any number of dishes and you, too, will know its many pleasures.

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bread alone

If you usually discard the stale leftovers from your country-style loaves, try making breadcrumbs instead. It's best to cut up any large pieces into more manageable one- or two-inch chunks. Left out on a plate or baking sheet, they will harden up and be ready for crumbling (crumbing?) after a day or two—and I've even used pieces that were left in a paper bag on a shelf for a week or more.

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smashing success

Once the bread is thoroughly dry, seal it into a large ziploc bag and then seal that in another bag. Bundle this in a kitchen towel (yes, Charvet linen is still my favorite) and bash it all over with a rolling pin or meat mallet. Peek in occasionally to gauge your progress.

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break it down

What you're striving for is a mix of small and medium crumbs—too fine and they become gritty, too large and they're too much of a mouthful. Once that's done, you heat butter and olive oil in a skillet, then add some fresh herbs, garlic and chile flakes. Any seasoning you like will do. After a minute or so, the fat becomes infused with flavor and you stir in the breadcrumbs. Another few minutes and they turn a wonderful golden brown. Transfer them to a paper-towel-lined plate and let them cool.

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solid gold

Your wonderfully flavorful seasoned breadcrumbs will keep, stored in an airtight container at room temperature, for several days. But they generally don't last that long because they're truly divine on pretty much everything: pasta with anchovies and Calabrian chiles; escarole salad with a grating of bottarga; white bean soup; creamed kale; and even yogurt with a swirl of chutney. Drop a trail of these breadcrumbs and the world will beat a path to your table.


Seasoned Breadcrumbs

makes about 1 cup
  • — 1 cup country bread, cut into 1" cubes
  • — 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • — 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • — 6 sprigs herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, marjoram or a mix
  • — 3 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • — Generous pinch red chile flakes
  • Sea salt

Spread bread pieces on a large plate or baking sheet and keep at room temperature until dried out, 1–2 days.

Place the bread in a large ziploc bag and seal; then place inside another bag and seal again. Wrap in a dish towel and use a rolling pin to smash the bread into crumbs. You're going for a mix of sizes, neither too fine nor too chunky.

Heat the oil and butter in a heavy skillet over medium until the butter starts to foam. Add the herbs, garlic and chile flakes, stirring for a minute or so. Toss in 1 cup of breadcrumbs and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to paper towels and drain. Pluck out and discard herbs and garlic, season with salt and cool.

Breadcrumbs can be dried out and crushed 1 month ahead. Store in the freezer in an airtight container.

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Oh so scrumptious looking...happy feasting!
thefolia on February 20, 2016 at 9:28 pm —
I sometimes find that bloggers go overboard tring to be different and inventive. I truly appreciate a post like this one, that is, more reminder then a recipe. Use what you have, and your plate will be glorious. Thank you.
alwayshungry on February 25, 2016 at 2:26 am —
Happy that you see the value in this simple suggestion!
laura on February 26, 2016 at 8:16 pm —
Oh my I have been getting this good multi grain bread at Costco but you have to buy two loaves and sometimes with just the wife and I we don't eat both before they dry out and have been throwing them out. Also love croutons in my salads but hate that now all I can find at the store are these big chunks of bread that are a big bite by themselves let alone try and have a bit of salad on the fork too. And now I have one simple solution to two aggravating problems. Thank You D.L. Wood
D.L. Wood on March 7, 2016 at 3:35 am —