On Breadcrumbs & Croutons

breadcrumbscroutons2

Molly Wizenberg, who many of you know as Orangette, has cooked for me three times over the course of our friendship. All three meals have been documented here on the blog: the first meal was in January of 2007, the next was a New Year’s Eve dinner (actually I can’t find the post about that) and then, finally, the meal that Molly’s husband Brandon made for me when I was stranded in Seattle during a blizzard. So actually she didn’t cook that third meal.

But the point is that I was karmically indebted to her and desperately keen to make her food upon her next visit to New York. Lo and behold she was here last night! And last night, guess what? I made her dinner. A carbilicious feast that put to use two underused culinary tools, the two items you see above: homemade breadcrumbs & croutons.

“Adam,” you’re probably thinking, “Molly cooked for you three times–ok, only twice–and you served her breadcrumbs and croutons? What’s your damage?”

Calm down, Shannon Doherty! The breadcrumbs and croutons weren’t the main ingredients; no, not at all. They were there to elevate the food I was making, to create an extra textural component that’d turn Molly’s “mmm” into an “MMMMM.”

So, for example, my signature Caesar salad:

caesarwithcroutons

I haven’t told you the secrets of my Caesar yet and maybe someday I will. But last night, after making my secret signature Caesar dressing, I took half of a loaf of bread (I bought a loaf of La Brea Bakery Italian bread at D’Agastinos; they have it at Key Food too and maybe your local grocery store) and cut off all the crust with a serrated knife. Then, only using half the bread (I used the other half for breadcrumbs) I cut it into cubes. I tossed those cubes in olive oil and then heated a non-stick skillet, dropping the moistened-cubes in there and letting them toast on medium heat for 10 minutes, tossing them around all the while. I also sprinkled them with salt and pepper to give them some umph. Watch them carefully, though, you don’t want them to burn. You just want them to turn a nice golden brown.

And look how happy Molly is to eat this golden brown crouton with her Caesar salad:

mollyandacrouton

“The croutons are delicious,” she said without any bidding from me. I’m not making that up.

As for the breadcrumbs: I took that other half of the bread, cut the crusts off, and tore it into pieces and dropped those pieces in the blender. Then, again, in the same non-stick skillet I tossed the breadcrumbs in olive oil (just enough to moisten them) and heated them on medium heat, tossing them all around for 10 minutes or so, until they were a deep golden brown. (Seasoning them with a little salt and pepper too.)

Look how much they add to a bowl of my Heaven & Hell Cauliflower pasta:

pastawithbreadcrumbs

Even Molly fell under their spell:

mollyandpasta

“This looks too good to eat,” she’s thinking in that picture.

Even my dessert had crumbs!

potatochipsandpretzels

Oh yes, I was sincerely trying to kill Molly with carbs so I made her Momofuku Milk Bar’s Compost Cookies:

compostcookies

For those of you who told me that your compost cookies spread out too thin when you made them, I think it may be because you didn’t pulverize your chips or pretzels enough. The chip/pretzel powder becomes its own kind of flour, giving the cookies structure and allowing them to keep their shape. (Keep some of the pieces chunky, though, that’s part of the fun.)

In conclusion, bread is your friend when you’re making dinner. One loaf of Italian bread with the crusts cut off can transform a humdrum Caesar salad and pasta dinner into something otherworldly. I don’t know if Molly was blown away, but while she was writhing around on the floor in her carb coma, she did mutter one final word under her breath:

“Atkins.”

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