Pasta & toasted bread crumbs

8 Dec

Aside from the air, the water and a good sfogliatelle, the two things that I most require to function in this world are bread and pasta.

Big surprise, then, that a bowl of spaghetti and bread crumbs is a favorite around here.

If your people trace back to southern Italy, Calabria especially, this might be a traditional dish on Christmas Eve. It isn’t part of my family’s holiday tradition; Aunt Rita usually goes with a hazelnut sauce over angel hair. And so I make this spaghetti with bread crumbs pretty much whenever I please.

Use any plain bread crumbs that you like, of course, but you’ll never convince me that homemade isn’t best. The bread crumbs that I keep around the house come from leftover crusty loaves made by talented bakers right here in town. This is about a cup’s worth of crumbs, which is enough for at least a pound of pasta, probably more.

In a hot pan toast the bread crumbs. You don’t need to coat the pan first, but make sure to stir the crumbs frequently and make sure that they don’t burn. This should only take a few minutes at medium heat, so do not—I repeat, DO NOT—leave the bread crumbs unattended—say, while texting your pals a link to that preposterous YouTube video of Dylan singing “It Must Be Santa.” I know. I’ve been harassing people with that one for a couple holiday cycles now myself. Just remember why we’re here, okay. The crumbs have got to come first.

This is where individual taste comes into play, and so feel free to adjust the ingredients however you like. Translation: you people who refuse to use anchovy in your cooking can just forget that they’re here and stick with a straight-up aglio e olio.

Where was I? Right. I’m not shy about using extra virgin olive oil. It’s the basis of this dish and so I’m not about to measure it out in tablespoons; I pour out what I pour out, that’s all. The other ingredients are garlic (there’s gotta be four good-size cloves here at least), hot pepper to taste, and of course plenty of anchovy fillets. (Deal with it.)

The only other ingredients are the pasta and the all-important (well-salted) water that it’s boiled in, so don’t throw all of the pasta water down the drain. I use tongs to transfer the cooked spaghetti from the water and into the pan, then ladle in as much water as needed to properly incorporate the ingredients. This stage should be done quickly and at very high heat.

What we’ve got here is less than a half pound of spaghetti, by the way. I’ll incorporate two or three good pinches of bread crumbs while the pasta is in the pan, then sprinkle about as much over the top after it’s plated.

This is some seriously good peasant food we’ve got here, friends. I’ll take it over air and water any day.

The sfogliatelle? That I’ll need to get back to you about.

10 Responses to “Pasta & toasted bread crumbs”

  1. Velva December 8, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

    Don't forget wine with your favorites of bread and pasta.The addition of bread crumbs is a good one. I like it. Basic, simple and delicious.Velva

  2. Gail December 8, 2012 at 10:02 pm #

    We always have this on Christmas Eve… Love the Anchovies! A once a year thing for us.

  3. Fred December 9, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    Ma, tue sei pazzo? No formaggio?

  4. Mister Meatball December 9, 2012 at 12:35 am #

    All: My friend Fred is asking 2 questions: Am I crazy? and, What, no cheese? I dunno about the crazy part, but believe it or not I find that this dish does not require any cheese. Almost mentioned this in the piece, in fact.Go figure.

  5. Josephine December 9, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    My Sicilian relatives always serve toasted bread crumbs with pasta instead of cheese!

  6. Ann December 9, 2012 at 11:58 am #

    I'm gonna have to try this….Big into garlic and if the anchovies are mushed into the sauce I'm good

  7. Claudia December 10, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

    Yes, that'll do it. And yes, I smother it with cheese.

  8. Arlene December 11, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

    One of the best meals I ever had was in Sicily – simple pasta, garlic, oil, bread crumbs and thin slices of tuna. Heaven.

  9. Anonymous December 14, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

    I must admit, I first thought sfogliatelle had more to do with amore than a mangia

  10. Anonymous April 14, 2015 at 10:40 pm #

    For those wondering about the lack of cheese, as explained to me by my Sicilian born mother, this was a dish that classified as la cucina povera or poor cooking. They used the bread crumbs because there was no cheese to be had. They lived thru some very lean, tough times. This recipe was born from \”want' and they used what they had available, the breadcrumbs added a little \”something\” to when they had almost nothing.

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