It was a hobby that started out of necessity, as a way to use up stale bread, but quickly turned into an activity I looked forward to for its meditative qualities. If you’ve never dipped your hands into a bowl of freshly processed breadcrumbs and felt their gritty, sandy texture before, you’re seriously missing out.
To make them, I start by cutting a loaf of stale sourdough bread into large cubes and scattering them across a sheet tray. I bake them slowly until they’re fragrant and golden, perfuming my apartment with the comforting scent of toast. I then pulse the cubes in a food processor to transform them into crumbs.
This is the first opportunity to elevate them. I like my crumbs large and scraggly, not fine and sandy like most store-bought varieties, so they can perfectly trap my favorite seasonings.
I fry the breadcrumbs in a Dutch oven with a generous amount of olive oil, five minced garlic cloves and a pinch of red pepper flakes. The bread sizzles and pops, absorbing the flavorful oil as it slowly darkens in color.
I transfer the crumbs to a bowl to cool, add freshly grated Parmesan cheese and massage with my hands. This step might sound a bit precious, but it breaks down the cheese in a way that leaves behind its savory flavor without compromising the breadcrumbs’ crunchy texture. I finish them with lemon zest, minced parsley, salt and pepper, and suddenly my stale loaf has a new life. It’s something crunchier, saltier and worth celebrating a second time.
Once I have freshly made breadcrumbs, I add them to pasta as a final crunchy topping, to salads in place of croutons and to roasted chicken for a pop of texture. The crumbs pack enough flavor and crunch to upgrade just about any meal. A simple dinner of pasta tossed in nothing more than olive oil makes the perfect blank canvas to let the breadcrumbs shine, and having them on hand just makes weeknight cooking more exciting.
In fact, I’ve slowly started to plan my meals around what I can sprinkle them over.
The recipe makes a large batch, so you can store them in your fridge and use them as-is, or quickly heat them in a dry pan to restore crispness.
Once you make them, you might never go back to the boxed, seasoned variety again. Take your time, allow yourself to get lost in the process, and breathe some new life into your stale bread.
- 1-pound loaf sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 cloves garlic, finely minced or grated
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 cup (3 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (from 2 large lemons)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
Position the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
Arrange the bread cubes on a large, rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, stirring halfway through so they dry evenly, until the bread is crisp, fragrant and golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.
Working in batches if needed, transfer the cooled bread to a food processor and pulse until the bread is ground into crumbs slightly coarser than panko. It’s okay if some large, irregular pieces remain.
In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the breadcrumbs and stir until the oil has been absorbed. Continue to cook, stirring constantly to prevent burning, until the breadcrumbs are dark golden brown and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes.
Transfer the breadcrumbs to a large bowl and let cool for about 5 minutes. Add the cheese and massage the bread crumbs with your hands so the cheese evenly coats the breadcrumbs and no large clumps remain.
Add the parsley, lemon zest, salt and pepper and toss to combine. Taste, and season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.
(Based on 24 servings or 1/3 cup): Calories: 104; Total Fat: 6 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 3 mg; Sodium: 175 mg; Total Carbohydrates: 10 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 0 g; Protein: 3 g.
Recipe from food writer and recipe developer Jesse Szewczyk.
Tested by Ann Maloney; email questions to email@example.com.
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