Homemade Breadcrumbs & Infinite Ways to Use Them

pasta with toasted bread crumbs, anchovies, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and basil

Homemade breadcrumbs slipped into our dinner regimen slowly, appearing on our salads to start, the kale caesars in particular, quietly replacing croutons altogether. But shortly after their introduction, perhaps encouraged by their warm reception, they made haste, and soon began garnishing our pastas, mingling with our roasted vegetables, delicately topping our fish fillets. These days they’ve gotten completely brazen, sometimes accompanying every item on the plate. I don’t know when this trend will fizzle, but I’m liking it very much at the moment.

The inspiration to start whizzing my stale bread in the food processor, storing the crumbs in the freezer, and toasting them in a skillet with olive oil at the dinner hour, came from two sources: a great chef interview on the kitchn in early November and the editor’s letter in this month’s bon appètit, which offered tips on how to be a better cook from seven renowned chefs around the world including Mario Batali who admits that “there’s almost nothing [he] wouldn’t put homemade breadcrumbs on.” I’m starting to share this sentiment. These crunchy, salted, olive-oil toasted bits are truly addictive.

What’s best about this recent addition to the pantry is that it makes use of an ingredient that often was destined for the trash. Now, stale bread never goes to waste. At the first sign of its aging, into the food processor it goes, and from there, into the freezer it gets stashed.

What’s more, just when I think I have nothing to serve for dinner, toasted breadcrumbs along with a few pantry items — garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and anchovies — come to the rescue, working together to produce an unbelievably tasty dinner. This pasta dish, inspired by a recipe in Batali’s Molto Italiano can be spruced up with caramelized onions, if you feel like making them, or sautéed greens, if you have them, but if you don’t, don’t fret. I promise that with just four ingredients, a delectable dinner will materialize. This is pantry cooking at its finest — quick, easy, delicious.

green salad with toasted bread crumbs

Never let stale bread go to waste again: tear it up; throw it in the food processor; pulse until fine; store the crumbs in an air tight container or ziplock bag in the freezer for months.
stale bread

bread in cuisinart

pulsed bread

storing bread crumbs

When you’re ready to toast your breadcrumbs to add to pasta, salad, roasted vegetables, etc: heat about 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat; sprinkle in about a cup of bread crumbs; season with a pinch of salt; stir until golden; remove from heat until ready to use.
toasted bread crumbs

With these four ingredients on hand, you have the makings of an unbelievable pasta dish.

sauce ingredients

sauce, sizzling

toasted bread crumbs

Pasta with Toasted Breadcrumbs, Anchovies, Garlic & Crushed Red Pepper

Inspired by a recipe in Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano

Molto Italiano

Just a quick note about this cookbook: Molto Italiano. If you like Italian cooking, this book is a source of endless inspiration. I have had it for years now, and it is always the one I turn to when I just want to flip through something and start dreaming. What’s nice about the book’s recipes, especially the pasta ones, is that they aren’t overly precise and can be used as a guide and tailored to what you have on hand or to your preferences.

1/2 lb. pasta*
kosher salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon (or more or less to taste) crushed red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 to 5 anchovies** (or more or less to taste), minced
freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 to 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil or parsley (or more or less to taste)
1 cup toasted breadcrumbs (recipe below)
caramelized onions*** (optional, recipe below)

*I love this shape (caserecce, which can be found here), but I also love any short pasta like campanelle or orecchiette or gemelli — anything that will catch all the goodness of the sauce. The original recipe called for spaghetti, but it just doesn’t catch the sauce as well as these other shapes.

**The original recipe also calls for using those salt-packed anchovies, which I can never find at my markets, but if you get get your hands on them, apparently they are a treat.

***The original recipe calls for adding caramelized onions, which add a nice sweetness and are of course a delicious addition — seriously, so good — but if you don’t have the time, energy, or desire to make them, just leave them out.

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a big pinch of kosher salt. Add pasta and cook al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Drain. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, place oil, pepper flakes, garlic and anchovies. Bring to a sizzle over high heat. Swirl around so that all of the ingredients mingle together — 30 seconds or so — then remove pan from heat. Set aside.

3. Place pasta in a large bowl. Add about 2 tablespoons of the reserved pasta cooking liquid and toss. Add the anchovy-infused olive oil mixture and toss well. Taste. Add more pasta cooking liquid if necessary. Season with salt (if necessary) and fresh cracked pepper if you wish. Add chopped basil, breadcrumbs and caramelized onions (if using) and toss well. Serve.

Homemade Breadcrumbs
Source: the editor’s letter of bon appètit January 2013

Note: As I mention in the post, I make breadcrumbs whenever I have stale bread on hand. Once you have a stash of whizzed breadcrumbs in your freezer, making toasted breadcrumbs to add to various dishes becomes effortless. I usually make smaller batches, using about a tablespoon and a half of olive oil per cup of breadcrumbs.

stale bread
olive oil
kosher salt

Tear about 1/4 of a good loaf of rustic white bread (fresh or day-old) until you’ve got 2 cups 1-inch crustless breadcrumbs. Pulse in a food processor until crumbs are coarse. Toast crumbs in about 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, tossing frequently, until crunchy and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Season with kosher salt and let cool on a paper towel-lined plate. DO AHEAD: Breadcrumbs can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Caramelized Onions
Yield = 1 heaping cup

4 cups diced onion (from about 3 to 4 small to medium onions)
2 tablespoons butter
kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vinegar (red wine, white wine, sherry, balsamic — anything) (optional)
freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, season with a pinch of salt and cover the pan. Cook covered for about 15 minutes.

2. Remove the cover, and increase the heat slightly. Continue to cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the onions are not sticking. Sprinkle the sugar overtop and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, stirring more frequently now, until the onions have turned a nice deep brown. Pour in the vinegar, turn off the heat, and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula to remove any browned bits. Take pan off the heat and transfer onions to a large bowl to cool.

I love a citrus vinaigrette this time of year:
salad dressing ingredients

I have always loved the Chez Panisse Vegetables technique for making salad dressings, which often starts with macerating shallots in citrus juice or vinegar. This is what I have been doing lately:

Finely dice a shallot or two. Place in a bowl and cover with the juice of one orange. Add 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar. Season with a pinch of kosher salt and a pinch of sugar. Let macerate for 15 minutes, if you have the time, or less, if you don’t. Whisk in about 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil. It’s ok if the dressing is not totally emulsified. Just give it a stir when you’re ready to use it and spoon it, making sure to scoop out some of those delicious shallots, over your greens in a large salad bowl when you’re ready to toss them with those irresistible toasted breadcrumbs.

macerated shallots


  1. says

    Yum! Looks fantastic. I’ve also found- quite by accident- that even crumbs made from breads robust with flax seeds and oats, etc, actually make a very nice toothsome addition to meatballs.

    • says

      Emily — such a great tip! Funny you mention this because I made meatballs last night. question for you: do you soak your bread crumbs in wine or milk or any liquid before adding them to meatballs? As I was doing this last night, I was wondering if it was necessary.

  2. Becky says

    I couldn’t agree more with you about breadcrumbs. Amazing and versatile! We have been experimenting with them and I found a recipe where you pulse bread with pepperoni and use it on roasted broccoli. A revelation! It opened my eyes to all things I was missing out on. I started using pepperoni toasted breadcrumbs on everything! Thank you for the post and sharing breadcrumb love! Especially love them on pasta dishes, no cheese needed!

    • says

      Becky — that recipe is totally ringing a bell — where did I see it? Everyday Food mag? It sounds so familiar and so delicious. I must try that! And you are so right about no cheese being needed… I meant to make a note of that in the post. No cheese on the pasta and no cheese on the salad, and it wasn’t missed. And I’m a cheese person too. thanks for your nice comment!

  3. says

    I have two essentials in my freezer. Home made stock in little 250ml tubs (lots of them) and ziplock bags full of breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs are used in just about everything from home made schnitzels to crunchy toppings for macaroni cheese and eggplant parmigiana. Thanks for bringing the value of something so simple to the attention of your readers! Love your blog.

    • says

      Mandy — what great ideas for those breadcrumbs! Love the idea of adding them to eggplant parmigiana. And you are so smart to save stock in 1-cup quantities — I really should invest is some storage tubs that size. Very smart.

  4. Michael says

    Completely agree about the breadcrumbs, which I have constantly stocked in my freezer. They’re added to lots of things and can transform something simple into something special. Try cutting a courgette lengthways, roast for about twenty minutes and then cover with seasoned breadcrumbs mixed in some freshly grated parmesan or even a small bit of pesto. Drizzle with olive oil (so that it gets really crunchy) and pop it back into the oven for about another twenty minutes.

    I also keep opened tins of anchovies in the freezer (it’s easier than trying to keep the critters covered with oil in the fridge) as recipes rarely need a full tin..

    • says

      Michael — oh my gosh, that sounds heavenly! Love this idea. And love that the courgette is roasted and not fried, and all of the additions to the bread crumbs — Parmesan and pesto — just sound delectable. Great tip about keeping open anchovies in the freezer too…genius! Thanks for your nice comment. Can’t wait to try this recipe.

  5. Katykat says

    So delicious! AND, to make it even more appealing, this recipe might be the easiest home made meal I’ve ever put together in my life. I’m not even a huge anchovy fan, but this was really so delicious and easy, I will definitely be coming back to this one. And I now have a bag full of breadcrumbs in my freezer, and have also been making lots of zuni cafe eggs on breadcrumbs, another amazing and easy meal :) You’re such a savior.

    • says

      Oh Katykat, how I love you. So happy to hear you like the pasta. You have given me the confidence to make it for ben’s parents — Carole isn’t the biggest anchovy fan. I think she would like this though — she loves a caesar salad so long as the anchovies aren’t laid across the top of it. And you have reminded me of one of my favorites…must make eggs fried in breadcrumbs this week. Yum!

  6. Mama Poule says

    Hi Alexandra,
    I have been following your blog ever since it got featured by Mark Bittman a few years back, but finally writing in for the first time because this homemade bread crumbs idea solved a huge issue in our household. You see, my grandmother who grew up between the two wars always told me that throwing bread out is a sin. My French husband, however, will not eat yesterday’s left over baguette (apparently that is a no-no here in France). So despite the many ways to use stale bread, once in a while, I do end up throwing out stale baguettes, ridden by guilt…
    After this post, I threw all the stale baguette ends into a food processor, then off to the freezer, and, like you, I have been putting them on everything since! Guilt no more!!!
    Anyway, thanks for the great blog, I am impressed you can do this even with small children. I have a baby and it’s been more challenging to get into the kitchen, let alone blog and photograph!

    • says

      Mama Poule — thank you for this nice comment. I know, I think that is the best part about this little recipe — no more guilt regarding the stale/moldy bread going to the trash every week. I am completely envious that you live in France. Do you care to elaborate? Do you go bike riding with your baby and a baguette in your front basket? I don’t usually have too much wanderlust, but recently, and I think it has to do with feeling a little overwhelmed by taking care of toddlers, I have been dying to take a trip, specifically to France. My husband and I are dreaming up a long weekend, a 5-day 4-night kind of a thing. It just sounds heavenly. I hope life with baby is treating you well. Babies/children are so exhausting but so completely wonderful too. Thank you again for your nice comment.

  7. Mama Poule says

    Oh, I can’t say enough wonderful things about France and about living here! If you have never been, you should definitely plan a trip. Five days/ four nights is perfect to see Paris without running from sight to sight. If you decide to come and want suggestions/advice, send me an email and I will be happy to give you some tips.

    As for the biking, no, I don’t bike with the baby yet, for a variety of reasons: 1) she is only 4 months old so a bit young for a bike seat, 2) I am a bit of a klutz, and 3) Parisian drivers are totally NUTS, especially the scooters…and I say this having learned to drive in Manhattan…But I put my daughter in her baby carrier and take her everywhere! We walk to the Eiffel Tower a couple of times a week (I swear I am not making this up, we live right by), we sit in cafes for mommy to get her caffeine, we do Starbucks once in a while for an American-style treat, we go pick up our veggie basket (like your CSA) every week. And of course, we go get a baguette every day, and it never makes it home without one of the ends broken off and eaten! It is a nice time in life to take care of a baby, regardless of the work involved, it does allow to slow down and focus on what is important.

    Anyway, I just made your orange and olive oil cake this weekend…..excellent! Thanks for all the inspiration again and have a great weekend with the toddlers!

    • says

      Mama Poule — I will definitely take you up on suggestions for Paris when the time comes. I just watched Before Sunset (husband was away…was in the mood for a chick flick), and it filled me with such wanderlust. I just want to roam all of those beautiful streets and eat cheese and baguettes all day long.

      Glad to hear you are not yet riding around with baby in basket. And ohhh, 4 months — so precious! I love that phase. What fun that you get to take walks with her to the Eiffel Tower and to cafés and to pick up your vegetables! I am completely jealous. I live in a wonderful town and have wonderful neighbors, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I do miss being in a city or even a town that would allow me to walk to some sort of main street and window shop and pick up a few groceries and, of course, to get a coffee every now and then. I unfortunately am totally dependent on my car. Booo.

      So glad you liked the orange and olive oil cake! I think the next one you should try is the Chez Panisse almond torte… provided you like almonds. So good.

      Thank you for your nice comment. The weekend with the toddlers was great. Take care.

  8. Mama Poule says

    I am a total urban dweller who has never owned a car so I know what you mean, you don’t sound at all ungrateful. I bet you miss Philly, I lived there for a summer and (although it was no New York) really enjoyed it!!

    I might try the almond torte for V-day, see if I find the almond paste here…

    And those Before Sunrise/ Before Sunset movies are totally good!!

  9. Laurie F says

    Ali, what would you think of putting the red pepper, anchovies, garlic and breadcrumbs into a Mac and Cheese recipe of some kind? A friend is having an all Mac and Cheese dinner in February and I’m trying to figure out a good, new, twist? I went here because of the lucious breadcrumbs but it all sure sounds like it could be inserted into a creamy mac and cheese with little enough effort!? The idea of the spice from the red pepper and garlic and the crunchy perfect breadcrumbs sounds like it would fit the bill….maybe roasting the garlic first too? I’m making myself hungry….;) XO! moi! MIght have to test this before the dinner!

    • says

      Yes yes yes! Laurie, we are soooo on the same wavelength. I have been wanting to make mac n cheese recently — it’s just that time of year — and I have a wonderful recipe that I think can be made more wonderful with the addition of the flavorings you mention into the breadcrumbs and also using fresh breadcrumbs instead of panko. I used to love panko, but recently I’ve just been disappointed with it, and even if there is a place for it, I think there is more of a place for fresh bread crumbs. OK, so I am not going to have time to experiment with this till next week — I’m going away for the weekend — but here is the link to the no-boil mac n cheese recipe that I love: http://www.alexandracooks.com/2013/01/29/arancini-mac-cheese/ I have made it without the saffron, too, because I don’t always have saffron on hand, and I think the flavorings can be tailored to your liking. I love the idea of pulsing a cup of fresh breadcrumbs with the seasonings you mention and using that in place of the panko. Fun! Let me know if you make any discoveries!

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