A trail of breadcrumbs

by Amy Scattergood on May 12, 2009


You can buy breadcrumbs at stores, which I find completely absurd given how many bits of baguette I always have at home–and the inherent lunacy of paying money for someone else’s stale crumbs.  Instead of buying the stuff (it tastes and looks like ground up cardboard anyway), simply save the ends of loaves or the remnants of last night’s boule and run them through the Cuisinart.  The results will be tastier, cheaper, and more practical than the purchased alternative.  Do this routinely, and freeze the results.  Why?  Because breadcrumbs are an integral–and very underrated–component of many dishes.  Depending on how you’re planning on using them, you can just them take out of the food processor, or toast them in the oven, or cook them with other stuff. Saute the breadcrumbs up in olive oil and garlic and add to a bowl of fresh pasta with a generous grating of good cheese and maybe some parsley.  Use breadcrumbs in soups as a thickener, instead of cream or flour.  Keep going and make bread soup, or leave the stale bread in larger chunks for panzanella, or toasted bread salad.  Saute breadcrumbs (again, in olive oil and garlic) and use them to top fresh grilled anchovies or mackerel, or mix them with fresh herbs–and more evoo and garlic–for a crust for salmon or a rack of lamb.  Breadcrumbs also make a great coating for fried fish, a crusty topping for macaroni and cheese, and are a key component in Romesco sauce.  I’ve even used them to make sourdough starter.  Probably my favorite use for breadcrumbs is in meatballs, like this recipe below.  My mother used to add breadcrumbs to meatloaf to extend the pricier ingredients.  I like them for texture: the bread lightens the mixture, mitigating the heavier components (ground meat and fresh ricotta) and absorbing the olive oil. 


Serves 4-6

1 lb. ground turkey
1 cup bread crumbs
½ cup fresh ricotta
2 eggs
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Sauce and finishing:
1 large (28 ounce) can of San Marzano tomatoes
2 teaspoons kosher salt
large sprig of basil
Grana Padano or Peccorino cheese for grating

1. With your hands, mix all of the ingredients for the meatballs together in a large bowl until they’re fairly well combined.  Form the mixture into balls about 1 ½ inch in diameter.  Or smaller or larger if you prefer; I’ve even made one giant meatball.  Reserve the meatballs on a plate.

2. Pour the can of tomatoes and the juice into a large casserole or Dutch oven (5-7 quarts) with a lid.  Toss in the salt and basil.  Cook the tomatoes over medium heat, mashing them a bit with a fork or a wooden spoon, until they’re simmering, about 5 minutes.  Add the meatballs, distributing them in a single layer around the sauce and shaking the pan so that the sauce covers the meatballs as much as possible. Cover the pot, turn the heat to low and cook at a low simmer for about 45 minutes.  Stir the meatballs around once or twice to make sure that they’re cooking evenly and that the sauce isn’t scorching.

3. After 45 minutes, spoon out the meatballs, about 3 to a plate, cover with a spoonful of sauce and grate a generous amount of cheese over the top.  Serve with pasta or not.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Buster Keaton May 12, 2009 at 11:16 am

I’ve noticed a lot of recipes call for PANKO, which i did buy. Should I feel like an idiot? what is panko and how does it differ from breadcrumbs (I know i could look this up but i like the way you write)? Is there a panko industry that’s trying to co-opt our american dollars? Also, i like coating little tomatoes with oil and salt and breadcrumbs and roasting them and putting them in salad. a tiny crunch. yum.

Amy Scattergood May 12, 2009 at 11:26 am

Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) is a little different: lighter, dryer, larger grade. But if you take the crusts off a good baguette and pulse the food processor in an organized way and toast the results in a low oven, it’s about the same and probably tastes less like styrofoam. Yum on the tomatoes. My sister does the same thing with smelt, if I remember correctly.

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