Technically, these are cheater breadcrumbs since this recipe starts with store-bought Panko breadcrumbs. Sauté them in some butter, garlic, lemon zest and finish with some fresh parsley for a gremolata finish to casseroles, pasta, and roasted veggies.
Updated December 12, 2022
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 ½ 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. 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.
Gremolata Bread Crumbs
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter (or more as needed)
- 1 large garlic clove minced
- 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest or more for personal preference
- Pinch salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced flat leaf parsley
- Melt the butter 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 with a wooden spoon for 5 - 6 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs start to evenly brown and the lemon zest is aromatic.
- Remove from the heat and add the minced parsley. Mix well with either a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.
- If you don't plan to use the breadcrumbs right away, let them cool and store in an air-tight container. I use jars. They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 months or the freezer for up to 6 months.