Bread crumbs are a great way to salvage the last slice or two of bread that's in danger of getting tossed. And, with bread prices spiking, we don't want to waste a single crumb.

Making bread crumbs is as simple as whirring a few slices in a food processor or blender. Any type of bread will work — from white sandwich slices to seven-grain to bagels and English muffins. You'll get beautiful crumbs for topping casseroles or adding to meatloaf or croquettes. In today's recipe for Pasta With Bread Crumbs, they're the star of the show.

"This is my new favorite dinner," Beverly's daughter said after tasting penne mixed with cheese and buttery toasted crumbs seasoned with garlic and herbs. It's one of those recipes that seems too simple to be so good. And while it's hearty enough for a meatless main course, it also makes a wonderful side dish.

To make crumbs, freeze odd slices of bread in a plastic freezer bag until you get half a bag or so. Let the bread thaw in the bag, on the counter, for about 10 minutes (depending on slice size). Then fill the processor (or blender) halfway with bread, and process until most of the bread becomes coarse crumbs. Stop the motor and stir, then pulse the motor, stopping to stir again as necessary, until the desired crumb consistency is reached.

We like to make both coarse and extra-fine crumbs, and keep some soft and also toast some for dry crumbs similar to store-bought. To get dry crumbs, toast at 350 F in a jellyroll pan until the moisture evaporates and the crumbs are crisp and light brown, stirring well every 10 minutes. (Toasting time depends on the type of bread, crumb texture and amount.)

Freeze soft or dry crumbs in a heavy zipper-top bag for up to six months. No need to defrost before using. Bang the bag on the counter and scoop out the desired amount, and the crumbs thaw almost instantly.

Another handy way to use extra bread is to make cubes. Simply cut the slices into roughly 1-inch cubes. They also freeze for six months, and you can keep adding cubes to the bag until it's full. We like to use bread cubes in our Italian Bread Salad, which we've posted on our Web site at www.desperationdinners.com. Or you can find a recipe for very tasty croutons in our "Cheap. Fast. Good!" cookbook.

Saving those stray slices of bread for crumbs and cubes will save money and serve you well when dinnertime rolls around.

Menu suggestion: Pasta With Bread Crumbs

Corn on the cob

Tossed salad with homemade croutons

PASTA WITH BREAD CRUMBS

Start to finish: 15 minutes

8 ounces short pasta of choice, such as penne or rotini

2 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons olive oil, divided use

1 heaping tablespoon bottled minced garlic

1 cup coarse-textured, soft (not toasted) bread crumbs (see cook's note)

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/3 cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, optional garnish

Cook's note: Coarse bread crumbs — such as crumbs made from whole-grain or European-style breads — work best. We don't like extra-fine store-bought crumbs for this recipe.

Leftover cooked chicken, pork tenderloin and shrimp or steamed vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots or asparagus, are good additions. Cut into bite-size pieces, warm in the microwave, then stir into the pasta along with cheese.

Bring 2-1/2 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil in a covered 4-1/2-quart Dutch oven or soup pot. When the water reaches a rapid boil, add the pasta and cook just until tender, according to the package directions.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a 12-inch nonstick skillet. Add 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Add the garlic, bread crumbs, oregano and salt to the skillet, and stir to coat the crumbs with the butter mixture. Cook, stirring frequently, until the crumbs are crisp and golden brown, about 6 to 10 minutes. (The exact time will depend on the moisture content of the crumbs.) After stirring, shake the skillet to distribute the crumbs evenly in the bottom of the skillet. When the crumbs are toasted, remove the skillet from the heat. Set aside.

When the pasta is done, drain it into a colander, shaking to remove as much water as possible. Pour into a large serving bowl. Drizzle the remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil over the pasta, and toss to distribute the oil. Add the Parmesan cheese, and toss well. (See cook's note about additional stir-ins.) Wait until immediately before serving to add the bread crumbs to the pasta so they will stay crisp, and then toss well to distribute the crumbs. Serve at once, garnished with a sprinkle of parsley, if desired.

Makes 4 entree servings, or 6 side-dish servings

Approximate values per serving: 342 calories (29 percent from fat), 11 g fat (5 g saturated), 21 mg cholesterol, 12 g protein, 50 g carbohydrates, 2 g dietary fiber, 307 mg sodium


Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross are co-authors of "Desperation Dinners!" (Workman, 1997), "Desperation Entertaining!" (Workman, 2002) and "Cheap. Fast. Good!" (Workman, 2006). Contact them at Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016. Or visit the Desperation Dinners Web site at www.desperationdinners.com. © United Feature Syndicate