With the amount and variety of rye bread George and I eat, it wouldn’t be too far off to call ourselves rye connoisseurs. The Bay Area rye bread scene is strong and growing. It sounds like I’m talking about an emerging industry, but I speak the truth: in a city known for many things, expensive toast among them, the quest for a good rye bread is a noble and fairly common pursuit.
I pick up rye bread whenever and wherever I can find it: Grindstone Bakery’s brick-like loaf via a Good Eggs delivery, Anna’s Daughter seedy half-loaf from Rainbow Grocery Cooperative or Anna herself at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market, Tartine Bakery’s don’t-look-at-the-price rustic version, or what I consider the current gold standard – Dark Mountain Rye at The Mill.
My first experience with the Dark Mountain Rye was particularly memorable: following a happy hour glass of wine with friends on Divis, I’d ambled – tipsily – into The Mill to pick up a loaf of bread before heading to CalTrain. Although mildly picked over at 7 p.m., industrial metal shelving along one wall held various loaves of fresh bread in paper bags damp (in a good way) with oil spots and moisture.
Realizing a sudden and wine-induced hunger, I ordered a thick slice of toasted rye slathered with chunky almond butter, and sat at a little table while those around me dashed in and out to buy loaves for dinner at home. The snack sobered me up (yes, I’m a total lightweight) enough to brave the bike ride down Market Street, and George and I chipped away at the loaf I bought for the rest of the week.
As a result both of my rye obsession and aversion to food waste, I often have stale slices and heels of bread in the freezer. These oft-forgotten odds and ends make for delicious breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs are an ingredient that no one should ever have to buy!
Breadcrumbs make for easy and tasty casserole or gratin toppings, or may be swapped for croutons in a salad. Ground finely enough, breadcrumbs make for superb coatings for pan-fried chicken, tofu, pork, or fish. To make breadcrumbs, blitz stale (if frozen, let them defrost a bit) chunks of bread in the food processor. Melt butter in a frying pan over medium heat, add some fresh herbs, and then the breadcrumbs. Stir to coat breadcrumbs in butter-herb mixture. Season with salt and pepper, stirring or tossing pan until breadcrumbs are golden and crispy.
It’s taken me six paragraphs to get to the spaghetti squash casserole; such is my love for rye bread. Spaghetti squash is nearing the end of its season (most of what you see at markets now is from cold storage, anyway), so for best results you’ll want to get your spaghetti squash fix soon. This recipe gets bonus points for being easy to make ahead, and can be both gluten-free and vegan if you so desire (although my version is neither).
You could try passing this dish off as a main, but spaghetti squash isn’t as heavy as real spaghetti so I’d recommend some hearty sides. In my experience it serves three to four people as long as there’s a salad, bread, and something else interesting enough to keep folks from going back for thirds on the spaghetti squash!
spaghetti squash casserole with pesto and buttery rye breadcrumbs
1 medium spaghetti squash
Olive oil or butter, for brushing the squash and casserole dish
1½ cups of your favorite pesto, storebought or homemade
juice of half a lemon
1½-2 cups buttery rye breadcrumbs (see above)
Preheat oven to 400˚F. Cut spaghetti squash in half lengthwise, scoop out seeds, and brush cut sides of squash with butter or olive oil. Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper. Place squash cut side up on prepared baking sheet and roast in middle of oven until a knife can easily piece through flesh (about 45 minutes, depending on size of squash).
When squash has cooled enough to handle but is ideally still quite warm (I often wear an oven mitt to hold the still-hot squash, since hot squash will absorb more of the sauce than when completely cooled), use a fork to ‘rake’ out long strands into a large bowl. Add pesto and toss to combine. Mix in the lemon juice to brighten the flavors.
Grease a baking dish (around 8”x8” is nice, but it doesn’t really matter) and spoon the spaghetti squash-pesto mixture in evenly, smoothing the top. At this point you could refrigerate the casserole until you’re ready to serve.
Before serving, preheat oven to 400˚F, bring casserole up to room temperature, and prepare buttery rye breadcrumbs (see above). Top casserole with an even layer of breadcrumbs and bake until casserole is warmed through and breadcrumbs are (even more!) golden and toasted.