TOP PHOTO: Mac & cheese, crumbed for
crunch and glamour. Photo courtesy Morgans
Hotel | NYC. BOTTOM PHOTO: Linguine
tossed in olive oil, Parmesan and herbs,
topped with bread crumbs. Photo courtesy
All’onda | NYC.
If you peruse recipes for mac and cheese, you’ve likely noticed that the better recipes—certainly those by name chefs—regularly add a sprinkle of toasted breadcrumbs on top of the dish. Chefs like Marcus Samuelsson and Michael Symon have contributed crumbed mac recipes to this website.
While mac and cheese may not be a southern Italian tradition, toasted breadcrumbs are, often replacing grated cheese as a garnish for the pasta.
As we close out National Pasta Month, our tip is: Go southern and garnish some of your pasta dishes with breadcrumbs instead of cheese. If you can’t live without grated Parmesan, toss the pasta with it before topping with breadcrumbs.
In its simplest form, just toss cooked pasta in olive oil, plate it and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. If you like anchovies, try the classic recipe with anchovies and chile flakes below.
THE HISTORY OF BREADCRUMBS ON PASTA
According to Academia Barilla, the tradition of pasta with breadcrumbs in Southern Italy was created by poorer people who could not afford pricier ingredients like cheese.
They would prepare the breadcrumbs using stale bread leftovers. Those who had them also added kitchen staples, salted anchovies and dried chili peppers.
Over time in the region of Calabria, people began to prepare this dish on Christmas Eve, which was traditionally fish or seafood (or, in the Feast Of Seven Fishes, both).
MAKE YOUR OWN PANGRATTATTO BREADCRUMBS
When we have enough bread ends left over, we make pangrattatto (“grated bread”) instead of buying gourmet seasoned breadcrumbs. This classic Italian garnish consists of breadcrumbs toasted in olive oil and seasoned.
Feel free to use your favorite seasonings. Anchovy paste, cayenne, chili flakes, garlic, herbs, lemon zest, Parmesan cheese and parsley are traditional; but you can try curry, nutmeg or whatever you think adds pizzazz to your pasta recipe.
The type of bread doesn’t matter; a combination of different loaves only adds to the flavor. If you don’t have enough bread ends saved up, you can dry out fresh bread (details follow) or default to panko, Japanese breadcrumbs.
In addition to pasta topping, use the crumbs on casseroles and gratins, in meatballs and meatloaf.