A few weeks ago I wrote a post about smart kitchen tips, including this little reference to saving your leftover bread and turning it into bread crumbs. A mere blog post won’t do justice to the genius of this technique, but I’m going to try.
The process is easy. Just take your old, leftover, stale bread – baguettes, bakery loaves, whatever you’d like, and give them a whirl in the food processor. I don’t even take my crusts off, as many directions for making bread crumbs suggest. Just rip your bread into chunks, and pulse them a few times until they resemble coarse crumbs….And there they can sit, bagged in a Ziploc, ready and waiting in your fridge until you’re ready to make them the star of your show.
You’re making the same kind of bread crumbs that you’d find in a box at your local grocery store, but a fresher, better-tasting version.
Not a fan of the bread crumbs from grocery stores to begin with?
Neither am I. On the odd occasion I’ll use Panko, but I won’t touch the other kind. You know the kind that I’m talking about – the ones that you’ll find on grocery store shelves stored in cylindrical cardboard containers – plain or Italian. They’re usually sitting there next to the shelf-stable grated parmesan with the green lid. I’m being as complimentary as possible here, but those bread crumbs taste like oregano-infused sawdust left in open-air containers in someone’s garage.
And it’s sad really. Because bread crumbs have so many wonderful uses. In the original post, I mentioned that bread crumbs are perfect for things like meatballs and mac ‘n cheese, but here’s another little secret: they’re the easiest and fastest way to make stand-out vegetables. My tongue doesn’t lie – two days in a row I scorched it after pulling my veg off the pan and diving into my bowl a little too quickly. They’re that good.
And it’s a reasonably healthy way to cook your food. You’re using a little more fat than you would to simply sautee, and adding the equivalent of a half piece of bread. Now that I think about it, it’s almost unfair to do this to vegetables because once you’ve eaten them prepared this way, it’s hard to go back to your standard roasting and braising techniques.
But I’ll fill you in anyway because it’s one of those life-changing dishes that makes you look like a kitchen rockstar. Especially in front of your kids who now think that all vegetables should look and taste like this, and will actually start to eat things like eggplant and asparagus.
So here’s the deal: you know that perfect crust on top of your mac ‘n cheese? The layer that packs that intense flavor punch of crispy bread crumbs, butter and salt?
You can replicate this whole divine experience with your veggies, but rather than keep it relegated to the top layer, you actually infuse its crispy, salty essence throughout your dish. Sounds too basic for words, but really, try it. Tonight. Scrap your dinner plans, it’s worth it.
The technique is simple. Just dice up veggies of your choice – cauliflower (or in this case romanesco, 1), zucchini (2), asparagus (3), turnips (4)– whatever veggie your heart desires. Maybe not lettuce. I trust your judgement here.
You don’t even have to par cook anything by boiling first. Just heat your sautee pan, add some oil, and start sautéing your veg. When they’re close to done, you add the magic: a knob of butter and a few tablespoons of bread crumbs. And that’s it– just toss, toss, toss, crisp things up, add a dash of seasoning, and you’re good to go. You can even make it vegan by replacing the butter with a little more olive oil.
The fun thing about this preparation is that you can add any seasoning you want – some of my favorites are lemon, herbs, ginger, garlic, spices, chiles, not all at once clearly, but pick a few that sound good for that particular vegetable.
And it’s fast – I can make the whole dish from prep to sautee to bowl to belly in all of 10 minutes.
Don’t worry, I won’t fault you if you can’t resist using your bread crumbs for more traditional purposes. This week I used my leftover crumbs for baked macaroni with wild mushrooms & brie….
….and I had so many that I started to get weird with more unusual preparations, here we have an avocado and poached egg breakfast…
But I think the case is clear. Bread crumbs are a winning ingredient across the board. I just wish I had a few more of these tricks up my sleeve to share with my readers.
If anyone has any other suggestions for equally quick/easy/fantastically awesome dishes that are go-to favorites, let me know in the comments. I’m always on the lookout for dishes that are that winning combination of delicious and easy. If you have one or two up your sleeve, don’t be shy, fill me in!
A few things to note about using this technique with vegetables:
1. For vegetables with high water content, like zucchini, it’s best to add the bread crumbs to the top of the vegetables after they’ve cooked. Sautee your veg, plate, wipe down the pan, add your butter, breadcrumbs & a touch of salt, sautee for a minute or two until golden brown, and then top your vegetables. Otherwise you’ll end up with a soggy mess (it happened to me on the first try).
2. Cheese, likewise, isn’t ideally added while the vegetables are cooking (it will melt and burn), but you can sprinkle a bit of parmesan or pecorino onto your dish after it’s done sautéing.