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January 30, 2007

Dry bread crumbs (Recipe: egg noodle, cheese and cauliflower gratin)

Breadcrumbs

There's a big piece of land for sale up the road from my house.

Costco, are you listening???

I'm an hour away from the nearest location of my favorite warehouse-type store and, while I don't go often, and I don't stockpile huge quantities of things in The Perfect (but kind of small) Pantry, I'd love to have a Costco closer to home.

I love their sides of salmon for $3.99 per pound. I love the soft, puffy bagels (heresy, from a native New Yorker....). I love the oatmeal-raisin cookies, the giant boxes of grape tomatoes, the bags of Empire kosher chicken breasts, the portobello caps and haricot vert at prices I can afford.

Most of all, though, I love the cookbooks.

Incredible bargains, eclectic selection, best sellers, no-sellers — I can't walk past the book aisle without browsing, and there is always something I don't have and, suddenly, cannot live without.

Last week, the brand new Fine Cooking Annual landed in my shopping cart — available at Costco before it's even in the bookstores! Good thing, too, because I was looking for new recipes that call for the dry bread crumbs I found on my pantry shelf.

Dry bread crumbs, made from dry or toasted bread, are a staple in meatloaf and toppings for pasta, which is why most of us have them in the pantry. They're easy to make, but even easier to buy, and they have an incredibly long shelf-life. Generally you find them in the market in two styles: plain, and Italian (with herbs and spices). Both have roughly the same calorie count (110 per 1/4 cup of crumbs), but the Italian ones have twice as much sodium.

In cases where you're using bread crumbs for topping, you can substitute panko. For meatloaf dishes or recipes where the bread crumbs are mixed in, I stick with traditional bread crumbs.

To make your own bread crumbs, cut stale bread (white or whole wheat) into large cubes, and place on a baking sheet in a low-medium oven (300-350°F). Bake until very dry and just barely browned. Place the cubes in a food processor or blender and process to a fairly fine consistency. To create your own special seasoned bread crumbs, add dried herbs (garlic or onion powder, thyme leaf, sage, etc.) with the bread cubes, and process together.

Egg noodle, cheese and cauliflower gratin

A comment from fellow food blogger Scott on this post got me thinking. Maybe, just maybe, it's time to get over my fear of cauliflower. Could this be the recipe that turns it around for me? Adapted slightly from Fine Cooking Annual (2007). Serves 8.

Ingredients

3/4 lb (about 1-1/2 cups) farmer's cheese
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for the dish
1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1 small head cauliflower, cut into 1-inch-long florets
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth (I like Swanson's 99%, or homemade), or vegetable broth
9 oz fresh egg fettuccine

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Set a large pot of generously salted water over high heat and bring to a boil. Butter a 9x13 baking dish.

In a food processor, combine the cheese and cream and process until well blended. (You can also mix them in a bowl.)

Melt 1 Tbsp of butter in a 12-inch skillet over high heat. Stir in the bread crumbs, thyme, a pinch of salt, and a few grinds of fresh black pepper. Sauté, stirring, until the crumbs are light golden brown and crisp, 1-2 minutes. Immediately scrape them into a small bowl and set aside. Wipe the skillet clean.

Melt 1 Tbsp butter in the same skillet over high heat, until it begins to bubble and brown. Add half the cauliflower and cook until well browned, 2-3 minutes, stirring only once about halfway through, then transfer to a bowl. Lower the heat to medium high, add the remaining 1 Tbsp butter, and repeat with remaining cauliflower. When it's well browned, return the first batch of cauliflower to the pan, add the broth, and cook until the cauliflower begins to get tender but is still a bit crunchy, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 1 tsp pepper.

Cut the fettuccine into 3-inch lengths and cook in the boiling water until tender, 2-3 minutes. Drain. Put the cauliflower with its cooking liquid and the cheese mixture in the empty pasta pot. Stir to combine. Return the fettuccine to the pot and stir it all together. Season to taste with 1/2 tsp kosher salt. Spread the mixture in the buttered baking dish. Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the top. Bake until the top is lightly golden brown and the cheese is bubbling, 20-30 minutes. Let cool briefly before serving.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Comments

I can't wait to hear how the gratin turns out. Cauliflower is part of that group of cruciferous and root veggies that really stink up the joint when boiled for a long time: cabbage, turnips, etc. Baking with cheese - now, that's more like it.

I've bought bread loafs the past month or so that were a bit unimpressive/quickly stale; finally made one of those Italian soups with stale bread, tomatoes, parmesan rinds, and lots of oregano and such. Burned it unfortunately (note to myself: MUST watch pots) but saved it in time, and it was good - very rich, and far better than the bread was itself... and it was nice not to waste the bread, or the cheese rinds.

I like breaded porkchops the best. In fact I'm having it for dinner tonight. Definitely a staple in my kitchen too! So they have good selection of Cookbooks at Costco? I did not know that ....hmmn Costco here I come ! :)

Scott, I'm taking it slow... first I write about the cauliflower, then I actually have to buy one, then I'll work myself up to cooking it! But I'll get there.

Paul, I love those kinds of Italian soups. Such a good use of bread crumbs and parm rinds. I followed your lead and made a soup like that for dinner tonight, but spun it a bit with Spanish paprika for smokiness.

Veron, Costco's selection is small but always, always interesting. I never leave without at least one cookbook, and they're often at least half price. Happy shopping!

My own pantry is never without these, Lydia. Italian style is our favorite.

Lydia,

I've been cooking since I could barely reach the stove/sink but only now, with foodblogs, I've seen pasta recipes that call for breadcrumbs. So unusual to me - but sounds perfect!

I should give this a try.

This cauliflower recipe is delicious, too - you should definitely face your fear. :D

Lidia from Lidia's Family Table has also been turning me on to pasta with breadcrumbs as a garnish. I love the Progresso Italian bread crumbs but have always made my own plain bread crumbs. I don't know why I don't just make my own Italian bread crumbs as I always end up adding more seasoning, herbs and cheese!

Lydia,
Every time my mom visits us in CA, she says, "Is there anything you need at the Costco?" She loves going there and wishes there was one in RI. So, you made me smile. Your recipe sounds delicious!

I've been down with makin' my own breadcrumbs these days :)

Wow -- I'm impressed that so many Pantry readers make their own bread crumbs. Puts me to shame!

Mimi, I go for the plain ones more often, but honestly I'll use whatever I have in the pantry.

Patricia, I'm fairly new to the bread crumb-pasta dishes, too, but they are simple and elegant.

Tom, what's in a name, anyway? Sounds like you already are making Italian bread crumbs!

Susan, I agree with your mom!

Jeff, what do you make with your bread crumbs?

oh
my
god
lydia
i can never let my boyfried see this recipe! i've recently gotten him hooked on egg noodles with farmer's cheese and butter, but throw in some cauli, and dang, i'd be making this every night!

Ann, egg noodles with butter and cottage cheese was a childhood favorite, and I haven't thought about it (or made it) for years! Why not, I wonder? It was awfully good.....

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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