Updated February 2011.
If fresh herbs are better than dried, why are dry bread crumbs sometimes better than fresh?
Dry bread crumbs, made from dry or toasted bread, are used to add bulk to meat dishes (think meatballs and meat loaf) and crunch to casserole toppings, 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.
(Contrary to what you read, dry bread crumbs don't last forever, so here's a tip: after you open the canister, mark the date on top. If you don't use them within six months, toss them out.)
Almost any bread can be used to make bread crumbs, though more flavorful bread will make -- you guessed it -- better crumbs. When you slice a loaf of fresh bread, save the heels and leftover slices in a bag in your freezer. When you need bread crumbs, take out those bread bits. Let the bread sit out (no bag) overnight to get a bit stale, or, when it's defrosted, slice into 1/2-inch slices and bake in a slow oven (200°F) until very dry. When the bread is completely cooled, process the slices in a food processor fitted with a metal blade, and grind to desired consistency.
Mixed with minced fresh herbs, parmesan or romano cheese, salt and pepper, dry bread crumbs make a perfect topping for baked pasta dishes or stuffed chicken or fish croquettes. And, though cauliflower is one of the two things banned from my kitchen, I think bread crumbs would make a fine topping for a cauliflower gratin.
Adapted from the Parish Café, Boston (via the Boston Globe, January 2006), this meatloaf can be a little bit spicy -- or a little bit more spicy. Serves 4-6.
Olive oil (for the pan)
1 lb 93% lean ground sirloin
1 lb 80% lean ground beef
1/3 cup ketchup
1-1/2 tsp each kosher salt and ground black pepper
3/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1 Tbsp canned chipotle peppers in adobo, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp shredded romano cheese
Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly oil a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan.
In a bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix together lightly with your impeccably clean hands. Press mixture into the loaf pan and cover with foil. Set the loaf on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil, and continue baking for 10 minutes, or until browned.
Other recipes that use dry bread crumbs:
Breaded and baked chicken drumsticks, from Simply Recipes
Creamed collard greens with parmesan bread crumbs, from YumSugar
Sun-dried tomato stuffed mushrooms, from The Merry Gourmet
Pasta with baked tomato sauce, from Smitten Kitchen
Chipotle meatballs, from Jane Spice Recipes
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