If you’re looking for a way to reduce sodium in your diet, making your own breadcrumbs is a great way to start. Store-bought seasoned breadcrumbs can have as much as 1,056 mg sodium in a 1/2 cup, so if you’re trying to keep your sodium intake under 1500 mg, store-bought breadcrumbs isn’t the best way to do it. MUCH better to make your own. And they’re soooo easy to make. I make my breadcrumbs like a Gremolata with lemon zest, which allows me to dramatically lower the salt I add without compromising flavor, but don’t forget that there’s sodium in the Parmesan cheese. I always keep a stash of these breadcrumbs in a freezer-safe container that I can quickly go to for toppings for pasta and vegetable dishes, to breadcrumbs for crab cakes. In fact, these are the breadcrumbs I used in making my Eggplant Parmigiano I posted earlier this week. As a note, I typically include the crusts when making breadcrumbs as I think it adds more depth of flavor, but feel free to slice them off if you prefer!
Gremolata, by the way, refers to a chopped herb and lemon zest condiment frequently used in Italian cooking. There’s a lot of variation in the ingredients, but every recipe I’ve ever seen has lemon zest and minced garlic as two of the core ingredients. Parsley is most common, but I’ve also seen mint used – and sometimes other herbs such as rosemary or thyme. And in Milano, locals commonly add anchovies to the mix.
An interesting note about breadcrumbs: Bread was a staple particularly for peasants and other economically strapped families. Starting at least in the 16th century, bread showed up at every meal, and in the case of breakfast – it could BE the meal. Women would bake bread on Saturdays to have for Sunday dinner, and the bread would last through the week. By the end of the week, it was getting pretty stale. If it couldn’t be saved through moistening with water or oil and then warming in the oven, then it would be turned into breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs served a few purposes: 1) it made sure all the bread was used and nothing was wasted; 2) it augmented stretched meat stores as for meatballs or vegetable stuffing; or 3) it could replace grated cheese on top of pasta. Meat and cheese were luxuries to be used sparingly.
- Several slices of bread that will equal about 1 cup when reduced to crumbs
- 2 teaspoons olive oil, or more as needed
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 – 1 teaspoon lemon zest, depending on taste preference
- Pinch salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon minced parsley
- Preheat the oven to 350º F. Slice the bread into large bite-sized cubes and place them on a baking sheet. Bake until the bread feels lightly crispy on the surface, remove from the oven, and allow to cool. If you already have some stale bread, or at least fresh bread that’s been sitting uncovered on your counter overnight, you can skip this step.
- Throw the cooled bread into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade and whirl like crazy to transform the bread into breadcrumbs.
- Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the breadcrumbs, lemon zest, salt and pepper and toss in the skillet for 2 -3 minutes or until the breadcrumbs start to evenly brown and the lemon is aromatic.
- Remove from the heat and add the Parmesan cheese and minced parsley. Toss well. If not using the breadcrumbs right away, let them cool and place in a freezer-safe container. They can be stored in the freezer for 6 months.