I’ve been meaning to talk about bread crumbs for a while now. They really do deserve their own post, since they’re an important part of Italian cooking. Today I’m sharing a recipe for homemade Italian bread crumbs, as well as a few methods you can use to make them. But first, some background on why I’m not using store-bought bread crumbs anymore.
Strangely enough, I can mark the phases of my life by the kind of bread crumbs I’ve consumed. There was the “growing-up stage” with only Mom’s or my aunts’ delicious, homemade Italian bread crumbs. There was the “new wife and mother stage” of being a novice cook while juggling part-time work and deciding that store-bought bread crumbs were good enough, and who really cares? There was the “full-time working mother stage” of relying on convenience, despite being an experienced cook and missing homemade bread crumbs’ superb taste and texture.
And now, I’m in what I call the “informed and can’t ignore stage” where I’m keenly aware of the correlation between health and what we eat and have made it a priority to eliminate many processed foods from our diet — regardless of my level of busy-ness. Yikes! Believe me, I haven’t cast aside convenience nor lowered its priority. I’ve just elevated the importance of paying attention to ingredients when making decisions at the grocery store and cooking for my family.
The Italian bread crumbs I used to buy have a frighteningly long list of ingredients. Among them are five kinds of sweeteners, including high-fructose corn syrup. There’s also partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (a dangerous fat that raises bad cholesterol while lowering good cholesterol), chemical dough conditioners, preservatives and lots of sodium.
So, it’s been a year since I’ve purchased bread crumbs. Does this mean I’m making bread crumbs often? No. Honestly, I don’t use bread crumbs as much as before. For example, I’ve started using oats in our Healthy Turkey Meatballs. But some dishes just require bread crumbs.
Does this mean I use homemade bread to make bread crumbs? Sometimes. But homemade bread doesn’t last long around here, and there’s usually not enough left for bread crumbs.
So, here’s what I do. Every so often, I’ll purchase a baguette or loaf of sliced bread from the grocery store’s bakery after scrupulously reading the label to make sure I’m OK with the ingredients. Then, I take the most convenient route possible to get homemade crumbs. Here are the methods I use:
Toaster Method: I have my Vitamix instruction book to thank for this idea. If I’m starting with bread slices that can fit into a toaster, I toast them lightly. Then I grind the toast in my Vitamix blender. (A food processor also would work.)
Dried Bread Method: If I’m starting with part of a baguette that has become dry, I slice it up into chunks (if it’s too difficult to cut, I heat it in the microwave for a bit). I then grind the chunks of bread in my Vitamix (a food processor also would work.)
Oven Method: If I’m starting with leftover bread that hasn’t dried out completely, I preheat my oven to 350 degrees. I cut the bread into slices and place them on an ungreased baking sheet. I bake them for 10 minutes, or just until the bread is dry but not browned. I then proceed to grind the bread as described above.
Fresh Bread Method for Soft Bread Crumbs: If I’m looking for a soft texture, I just grind up fresh bread in the Vitamix (or food processor) without toasting or drying it first.
Once I have the crumbs, I season them (without cheese) and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month. They also can be frozen for up to three months. I’ll add freshly grated Parmesan to the bread crumbs just before using them in a recipe, unless the particular dish would taste better without salty cheese.
There’s really no way to replicate the fantastic flavor and texture of many dishes my family makes unless I use homemade Italian bread crumbs. Stay tuned for upcoming recipes featuring them!
(Recipe Source: Adapted from my Mom, who uses 1 cup of Pecorino Romano for every cup of bread crumbs, and no Parmesan)