While working on my taxes, I thought I’d take a look at our grocery budget from last year. I don’t consider myself extravagant and buy very few processed foods, but still, it was high enough that I don’t even want to share it other than to say, there’s definitely room for improvement. Seriously. I want to support our local farmers and will continue to do that by shopping every week at the farmers market. I could grow more of my own food and am planning to but truthfully, I think my biggest savings will come in the form of using what we already have in our pantry, freezer and fridge. Wasted food is a big money drain and puts a huge strain on our landfills.
Another big cost-cutting and sustainability consideration is to eat less meat. This is something I am completely conscious of but not as successful as I’d like to be. I love vegetables, so what’s the big deal? The more I think about it, for me, it seems to be a textural issue as much as taste. I like eating something with a little crunch. Give me the choice between ice cream and a cookie and I’ll usually take the cookie. Savory toasted bread crumbs add that little extra bite to an otherwise soft dish, like pasta, and can make me forget all about the meat.
I wrote a few weeks ago about using leftover bread for croutons but recently I ran across a recipe for pangrattato which is just a fancy way of saying toasted bread crumbs. You can dress them up with olive oil, butter, lemon zest, garlic, rosemary, chili, parsley — any number of ways — the only essential ingredient is plain old bread crumbs. Pangrattato means “grated bread” and yes, if your bread is stale enough, you can grate it. I usually just break a couple of slices up into several large pieces and throw it into a food processor.
Pangrattato Toasted Breadcumbs
1 cup breadcrumbs
3 T olive oil
2 t rosemary, finely chopped
2 t flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Zest from 1/2 lemon
Heat olive oil to medium-high in large skillet.
Add bread crumbs and saute until golden and crispy, about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat, add parsley and rosemary.
Once cool, stir in lemon zest.
If you’re adding garlic, and I would highly recommend a clove or two, chop finely and add to the last minute or two of the saute — enough to soften but not brown.
After I whipped up a batch of crunchy breadcrumbs, I literally threw some on practically every meal I made for about a week, starting with pasta. A few weeks ago, The Huffington Post published 24 Vegetarian Meals to Make Meatless Monday Go Down Easier. I tried several of these recipes including my own version of Rhonda’s Spaghetti with Fried Eggs and Pangritata from food52.com using a variation of Sally’s pasta carbonara recipe which she’s going to share with us in the next couple of weeks. You’re going to want to try it, especially for an easy dinner party meal.
Although pasta is an obvious and delicious way to use toasted breadcrumbs, I can think of many more including — on risotto, mac & cheese, scrambled eggs, roasted veggies, especially cauliflower, on fish, with lentils. I think you get the picture. It’s not hard to imagine practically any dish benefiting from a satisfying layer of savory crunchiness and yes, you can add parmesan too. Not as thrifty, but oh so good.
Even our local darling grain, farro, topped with roasted portobellos moved up a notch in the meatless meal rotation. I killed two birds with one stone (sorry, not a great vegetarian idiom) on this meal using grain from the pantry and leftover bread. If I had some, dried mushrooms would have also been delicious.
The next time you want to liven your meals up without adding to your grocery bill, give pangrattato a try. It’s the icing on the cake.