Even when I wasn't working full time and leading a busy lifestyle, I hated taking the time to visit the grocery store.
For this reason, I have always searched for ways to stock up on things we use most around the house. Evidently this trait was passed along to my daughter, who also likes to keep her pantry and her freezer stocked.
My daughter, Lindsay, is a military wife, and in her travels from one Army base to another, she has had the opportunity to make friends from all over the world. But it was another military wife, coincidentally also from Ohio, who shared a family recipe that Lindsay, in turn, shared with me and it has quickly become one of our favorites. This recipe for homemade garlic breadcrumbs - we were told - was passed down through several generations of Italian grandmothers and can be used in a multitude of ways: flavoring meatballs for soups and sauces; breading for chicken, fish and pork; as a filler for meatloaf; and as stuffing, whether you are making rolled stuffed beef or simply filling mushrooms for appetizers.
Planning ahead helps keep a busy lifestyle under control, and that is especially true when deciding what to make for dinner. Breadcrumbs are used in so many dishes, not just as fillers but also as flavor enhancers and coatings for everything from meats to vegetables, that it makes sense to keep them handy. But store-bought breadcrumbs can be boring and lack the flavor that real, homemade breadcrumbs can offer. This recipe makes about four gallons of breadcrumbs that are easily frozen, and their flavors stay fresh for several months.
What's great about this recipe is that it makes a huge amount and freezes well. When we want to use it in a recipe, we can simply scoop out what we need and put the rest back in the freezer. It's as simple as that.
When I make the breadcrumbs, I use my food processor. A blender or small food chopper will work just as well, although it will take a little more time. After the bread is grated, I pour it into a large bowl. Even my largest bowl wasn't big enough to be able to get in there and really mix the ingredients, so I used my large enamel canning pot.
The recipe calls for Romano and Parmesan cheeses, and it would be possible to grate your own hard cheeses fresh from the wheel, but to save time I bought mine already grated. If you prefer, you can substitute the more expensive pecorino romano in addition to the grated Parmesan.
4 loaves whole wheat bread, grated
24 ounces grated Romano cheese
12 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
4 whole heads of garlic, grated or chopped fine
6 bunches scallions with tops, chopped fine
2 large bunches parsley, chopped fine
Mix all ingredients together. Store in freezer bags and use as needed.
To save time peeling the garlic, my husband helped with this step. We worked like an assembly line with him gently smashing the garlic with the flat edge of a heavy knife while I slipped off the peels and tossed them into the food processor bowl. The garlic was going to get chopped fine anyway, so it didn't matter if the cloves were a bit flat.
I used the grating disc on my food processor for the bread, but I switched to the chopping blade for the rest of the ingredients. I preferred to chop the parsley, onions and garlic all together as it kept the garlic from being over processed and becoming pasty. If this happens, however, the garlic can still be used, although there will be a little more mixing to break up the clumpy garlic and cheese once all the ingredients are together.
The original recipe calls for curly parsley, but I have always preferred Italian flat-leaf parsley for optimal flavor. This parsley is easy to find in the produce section of most grocery stores, and it can easily be grown in your own garden. Parsley is a biennial, growing full and lush the first year and then sending up flower stalks and setting seed the second year. Sowing seeds each year will ensure a constant supply. I use parsley at home in a lot of different ways, including potato dishes, fish and even in salads.
As written, the original recipe says to cut the parsley fine with scissors. I am sure this is the same instruction that was passed down from one generation to another, but I tossed mine into the food processor along with the scallions and garlic and chopped it all together.
After all the ingredients are tossed into the huge bowl, or in my case the canning pot, it was time to roll up my sleeves (hands carefully washed, of course), and dive in, mixing everything well.
This is when the magic happens. Forget simmering potpourri or scented candles. The fragrance that arises from this container of garlic, cheese, onion and parsley is better than any artificial home freshener.
After the breadcrumbs are well mixed, take some out for immediate use because you won't be able to resist using them in something right away. I separated mine into four gallon sized freezer bags and double-bagged each one to help keep out any additional moisture.
The day after I made the breadcrumbs, I made more than 90 meatballs, using four cups of the breadcrumbs with three pounds ground beef, two pounds ground pork and four eggs as a binder. No additional seasonings were needed, although salt and pepper could be added if desired. After forming the walnut-sized meatballs, I froze them first on flat baking sheets and then dropped them into gallon sized freezer bags for easy retrieval when needed.
Two days after making the breadcrumbs, I used them to bread two pork chops for our dinner, which I baked on parchment in a 400 degree oven. The breading was crispy even after baking.