I absolutely love a good, crusty loaf of bread. At least once a week, a nice ciabatta, baguette or sourdough loaf makes its way into the kitchen, bound for a basket on the dinner table. We rarely end up finishing it that night, and at least with the baguette, it isn’t going to be as fantastic the next day. Often we get too busy the following day or two, and the bread hardens. But I never worry about the fact that we have leftovers.
Instead of being upset at waste, I pull out the food processor and zap the leftover bread into breadcrumbs. I’m thrilled to have them. I stick them in an air-tight container and put them in the freezer. Having them there is like having a well-stocked pantry. I know that there is always something I can put on the table that they will make better.
There are so many different uses for breadcrumbs. They help make meatloaf and meatballs more tender (and they help stretch your dollar since they make the meat go farther). Just a bit of them helps bind crabcakes – again, letting you have crab without spending quite as much. They’re lovely mixed with chopped herbs on baked fish (just spread a little soft butter or olive oil over it first to help them stick). Add some parmesan cheese to the breadcrumbs and they make a delicious topping on a vegetable gratin.
One of my favorite ways to use my stash of frozen breadcrumbs is in a way that is also known as “poor man’s parmesan.” In the poorer parts of Italy, fried or toasted breadcrumbs (also called pangritata) have been used instead of parmesan on top of pasta. It gives a great flavor and texture to the pasta. This also makes a nice pasta topping for those who are dairy intolerant. One of my favorite recipes for pasta with pangritata comes from Jamie Oliver, aka The Naked Chef. As usual, play with the ingredients if you want to – if things seem too spicy or not spicy enough, adjust the peppers; if you like things with more of a zing, add more lemon. I’ve lessened the amount of anchovy he asks for (he adds 16 anchovies, which I find a bit too heavy on the salt). This recipe is easy and delicious.
Spaghetti with Anchovies, Dried Chilies and Pangritata
½ cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, sliced
A few sprigs of thyme
1 cup of bread crumbs
Put the olive oil in a hot pan and add the garlic, thyme sprigs and bread crumbs. The thyme leaves will naturally fall off and flavor your pangritata. Stir around as it fries in the pan until the breadcrumbs are crisp and golden; you want them nice and crunchy. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
1 lb spaghetti
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of chopped garlic
10 anchovy fillets (if you’re nervous about this much anchovy, just use less; if you want to go with the original recipe, make it 16)
Juice of 2 lemons (or 6 tablespoons of lemon juice)
2 small dried red chilies, crumbled, or some crushed red pepper flakes (again, go with what you think will be right for your tastes)
Cook the spaghetti. While it is cooking, heat the garlic in the olive oil over low heat; when it begins to soften, add the anchovy fillets. They will slowly start to melt or break up. You can help this process along by smooshing them down with the back of a wooden spoon. Squeeze in the lemon juice and add the chilies. Drain the pasta and add it to the pan, stirring it around to fully coat the pasta. Serve the pasta and top each bowl with some of the pangritata.