It seems almost criminal to buy breadcrumbs. Even that so-called fancy Panko stuff really is nothing more than breadcrumbs ground less finely than the usual flavorless suspects lurking inside your local supermarket.
We ought to take firm charge of the leftover bread lying around in our kitchens. You know. Those old bread ends. The frozen burger buns you shoved into the freezer a couple of months ago. The ones you forgot about until I reminded you of them just now.
Let's reclaim, reuse and own up to all of it in the name of good sense.
When I lived in Spain as a young woman, I was delighted to enter the kitchen of the family for whom I was nannying and discover a good-sized drawer filled with old bread. It wasn't like any America bread box I had ever encountered before. Inside this drawer were odds and ends of loaves. Slices that hadn't been eaten and had since gone stale.
The bottom of the drawer was dusted pleasantly with flour, crumbs and flaked-off pieces of crust. It was its own little world with bread in various states of being. Its contents were well-used and as I soon learned, continually replenished.
These seemingly random bits and pieces of bread were ground and toasted (often though not always) and used to thicken braises and stews and soups. They were sprinkled into dishes including scrambled eggs or a gratinado of cardoons. Indeed, the crumbs were as much the family's staff of life as the whole fresh breads themselves.
Stale bread in your kitchen, though easily replaced by tender new loaves, need not be wasted. It is the principle of the matter, as much as it is a question of economics.
Take those old hamburger buns that you are unlikely to remember. They will likely be replaced with fresh buns the next time you cook a burger out of the freezer. Thaw them. Take the heels and crusts that have recently been rejected by various family members including most certainly, that demanding toddler who nearly rules the roost.
Jam torn pieces of bread into a blender jar or food processor, and turn that handy kitchen tool on. You really should be using it more anyway, for all the space it takes up. Grind these formerly unwanted pieces of stale carbohydrates until they submit and are, transformed.
I must warn you: Depending on how much you have stuffed into the vessel of your small kitchen appliance, this will be a noisy affair. But, it will not be so intolerable as to cancel out the worth of the project.
Take the resulting crumbs (so fluffy, aren't they?) and spread them onto a baking sheet. Drizzle over them a small amount of good olive oil and mix them around a bit with a spatula. Put it back together into a single layer. Give your crumbs a good, reassuring pat if you like.
You might want to take things to the next level. If so, the addition of some dried herbs of your choice will do just that. I myself tend to be more singular-minded. I keep my crumbs plain.
Place crumbs into an oven preheated to 350 degrees and let them settle in. Check on them in 10 minutes or so. The layer will have browned a bit around the edges but not so much or not at all yet in the middle. Give the crumbs a good push around from the edges in with your heat-resistant spatula. Let the nubby little bits settle in again for another 10 or 12 minutes, or even longer if you want them really brown.
When they are toasted and colored to your liking, take them out. Let them cool.
Once they are fully cool and no sooner, place them in a lidded container. You may shove the container into a drawer - or not. Shoving is a bit aggressive, after all.
I keep mine in the freezer. Lasts longer that way.
Just make sure you do a little dance the next time you are cooking and the recipe calls for breadcrumbs and you remember that you have a stash at the ready. A flavorful stash that was almost free and nearly effortless to make.
One final note: Do make these breadcrumbs regularly. One can never have a pantry that is too full of olive oil-crisped breadcrumbs. You'll want to use them in everything.
Except your morning coffee of course.
And for those of you who want desperately to use your breadcrumbs immediately, why not halve a bunch of cherry tomatoes - the cute little ones with the intoxicating fragrance that are currently receiving top billing at your local farmers' market. Place the halved tomatoes on a large rimmed baking sheet. Douse them with a healthy splash of olive oil (the little fruits just love it) and fling on top a couple of handfuls of your fresh breadcrumbs. Toss in thinly sliced garlic (the number of actual cloves is entirely dependent upon your own level of adventure). Mix it all together, adding a pinch of salt, pepper and some red chili flakes.
Place the pan in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes. When you check on them, the tomatoes will have collapsed and appear nicely caramelized. Remove them from the oven.
Eat them from the pan while standing in the kitchen or scoop the little jewels up into a bowl. Add chopped parsley. Maybe a splash more oil. Or, a sprinkling of grated Parmesan. Fold this mixture inside an omelet or into softly cooked scrambled eggs. Perch a couple of spoonfuls on top of a piece of toast or toss all of it together with some cooked pasta.
As you eat, slurping up the sweet juices, olive oil and best of all, the crunchy bits formerly known as Day-Old Bread, give yourself a pat on the back for being wise enough to turn those bread ends into a delicious summertime meal.