I once read somewhere that Judy Rodgers, chef and co-owner at San Francisco’s famed Zuni Cafe, wanted to write a whole cookbook devoted to creative uses for stale bread. If she gets around to it — and I sincerely hope she does — she can look to the Sicilians for a classic one to add to the repertoire.
Many traditional southern Italian pasta dishes are topped with toasted bread crumbs, a custom that probably dates to a time when people couldn’t afford the high cost of cheese. Though it sounds odd to layer a starch on top of a starch, the bread crumbs offer a nice crunch and rich, toasty flavor to the resulting dishes.
Below is a step-by-step guide to making your own toasted bread crumbs — a perfect use for the day-old bread in your kitchen. If you’re feeling creative, saute the crumbs with a bit of olive oil and mashed anchovies for truly bold Sicilian flavors.
|Dry the bread in the oven
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Arrange slices of coarse country bread, such as French or Italian bread, on a rimmed baking sheet. Let the slices dry in the low oven heat for about 1 hour.
|Break the slices into pieces
Fit a food processor with the metal blade. Then, tear the bread into small pieces and drop into the work bowl. Alternatively, drop the pieces into the container of a blender.
|Pulse to create crumbs
Pulse the food processor or blender until the bread pieces are ground into fine crumbs. You may need to do this in batches to ensure that the crumbs are processed evenly.
|Pour the crumbs into a bowl
Pour the crumbs into a bowl, then measure them. If you are not using them right away, store the crumbs in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Once you’re ready to put the bread crumbs to good use, try them in one of these flavorful Italian-style recipes:
|Spicy Roasted Cauliflower Pasta with Garlic Bread Crumbs
This dish has the hallmarks of any memorable pasta dish: a pleasing variety of textures and vivid, complementary flavors. Roasting cauliflower caramelizes it and brings out its sweetness.
|Penne with Italian Sausage, Spinach and Bread Crumbs
This pasta is quick and easy to assemble, but elegant enough for entertaining. You can spice up the dish with hot, rather than mild, sausage.
|Pasta with Tuna and Bread Crumbs
This recipe calls for a handful of ingredients you probably already have in your pantry: dried chilies, olive oil-packed tuna and dried pasta. It’s a classic example of Sicilian cooking — simple and immensely flavorful.
About the author: Olivia Terenzio grew up in Mississippi, where she cultivated a love of sweet potatoes, crawfish and cloth napkins at a young age. A passion for sharing food with friends and family led her into the kitchen and later to culinary school, where she learned how to roast a chicken and decorate a cake like a pro. As a Williams-Sonoma blog editor, she’s now lucky enough to be talking, writing and thinking about food all day.