Last week, I was halfway through an impromptu romesco—toasted almonds were in the food processor with chopped tomatoes sautéed with olive oil, minced garlic, crushed dried red chile, tomato paste, and sliced red bell pepper—when I remembered something: Suzanne Goin's romesco calls for a 1-inch-thick slice of fried country bread, which gets pulverized into breadcrumbs in the food processor.
As I looked around my tiny kitchen, where every single pan was already dirty, the thought of frying a single piece of bread to make breadcrumbs was not appealing.
Grasping for something salty, crunchy, carby, already-cooked, and within arm's reach, I opened the pantry and reached for the bag of pretzels. I threw a handful in the processor and gave it a whirl. It thickened (and seasoned) the mixture. We had romesco, albeit untraditional, for topping roasted vegetables. And the next day, I closed the circle, using the hacked romesco as a dip for even more pretzels.
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Breadcrumbs, who needs them! When a recipe calls for crumbs made from stale or fried bread (that is, where you're not looking for bread to provide moisture, but rather crunch and texture), turn to your pantry for possibilities.
A few things to consider as you experiment:
Don't try using really dry alternatives (like pretzels or tortilla chips) where soft breadcrumbs made from a fresh loaf are called for.
Consider salt and flavor levels. If you're using Fritos and Saltines, for example, you'll want to dial down the amount of salt in the recipe.
If you're using the breadcrumb substitutes as a filler or binder (rather than as a inessential topping), you might have to play with the quantities. You'll need more whole oats than breadcrumbs, for example; but, if you grind the oats before adding them, you can use a 1:1 substitution.
Corn Flakes, Special K, Wheaties, or other cereal: toast them with a bit of sugar and butter, crush them a bit, then use them on top of kugel or rice pudding
Rice Krispies: these are so small, you don't really have to crush them at all; use them whole as a topping for a gratin or as an accompaniment to fried eggs; or, add a handful to a bowl and pour some soup over top (ten years ago, Ferran Adrià at El Bulli restaurant poured a reduced seafood broth over Krispies for "Kellogg’s paella")
Fritos or corn chips: ideal on top of macaroni and cheese (especially if that macaroni and cheese includes chopped jalapeños) or baked beans (add them once you've uncovered the pot—otherwise, they'll get soggy on you)
A (former) student of English, a lover of raisins, a user of comma splices. My spirit animal is an eggplant. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream. For that, I'm sorry.