Dry bread crumbs (Recipe: Cubano quesadillas)
TRUE CONFESSION: My pantry harbors its share of convenience foods.
I don't mean pre-fab dinners that get zapped in the microwave.
I mean pantry ingredients that keep for months in the pantry and make my cooking faster, like curry powder, chili powder, tomatoes in a box, beans in a can, harissa in a tube, Sriracha, Ro*Tel, and dry bread crumbs.
With panko (Japanese flaky bread crumbs) all the rage, plain dry bread crumbs have been left behind by restaurant chefs and food magazines. In my small village market, panko is nowhere to be found, while dry bread crumbs are always available. See what I mean? Convenient!
Bread crumbs offer protection for lean cuts of meat like chicken schnitzel and coating for delicate vegetables in eggplant parmigiana. They add body to chipotle meatballs and horseradish meatloaf, and make a traditional topping for traditional dishes like butternut squash parmesan gratin and mushroom-herb macaroni and cheese.
Dry bread crumbs last for months in the pantry, if kept in a tightly closed container, but not forever. When you open a canister of bread crumbs, mark the date on the top. After six months, throw any leftovers away.
You can make your own bread crumbs from any dry bread, including gluten-free bread. Toast slices of bread until completely dry, then pulverize in a food processor or by hand with a rolling pin.
Though you can buy seasoned bread crumbs, I always buy the plain variety so I can choose to season with savory (herbs, cheese) or sweet.
How convenient is that?
It's rare -- well, almost never -- that pork finds its way into my kitchen. Recently, I had a couple of small slices of pork tenderloin, so I thought right away of cubano sandwiches, which typically contain roast pork, ham, cheese and pickles. These quesadillas are in that spirit. Serves 4.
2 slices of pork tenderloin
3/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp fresh black pepper
3 Tbsp + 1 Tbsp canola oil
4 large oat-bran or whole wheat tortillas
12 slices Swiss cheese
1 large half-sour pickle, thinly sliced
Your favorite mango or peach salsa, for serving
Dry the pork with paper towels and set aside. In a shallow bowl, beat the egg with a fork. In another shallow bowl, mix the bread crumbs, salt and pepper.
Heat 3 Tbsp oil in a nonstick skillet over low-medium heat. When the oil is hot, dip each piece of pork into the egg, then into the bread crumbs, making sure to press lightly so the crumbs adhere. Place the pork into the skillet, and cook for 4 minutes on each side. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool, then slice the tenderloins on an angle, into 6 slices each (12 slices in all).
Heat a griddle, panini press or nonstick skillet.
Assemble the quesadillas: Place one tortilla on a cutting board. Top one half of the quesadilla with 1-1/2 slices of Swiss cheese. Place 3 slices of pork on top of the cheese. Top with a few slices of pickle, then another 1-1/2 slices of cheese. Fold the tortilla over, to make a semi-circle, and press down slightly. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.
Brush your griddle or skillet with 1 tsp canola oil. Place as many quesadillas as will fit on the griddle. Compress the quesadilla with a panini press or a cast iron skillet. Cook for 2 minutes per side, until the cheese melts.
Let the quesadilla sit for 1 minute, then slice into wedges and serve with your favorite mango or peach salsa.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Shrimp and avocado quesadillas
Baked cherry tomatoes
Potato and swordfish tortino
Pork tenderloin with lavender grilled peaches
Slow-roasted tomato macaroni and cheese