TOP PHOTO: Mac & cheese, crumbed for
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).
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.
1. PLAN ahead. Store all the ends and leftover slices from loaves of bread in a heavy-duty freezer bag. You can keep it in the freezer or not. When you’re ready to make breadcrumbs…
2. LET the bread sit at room temperature overnight or until it gets hard enough to grate into breadcrumbs. (Our Nana kept the ends in a breadbox for weeks until she had enough to make crumbs.) If your bread isn’t hard enough, you can dry it in a 250°F oven.
3. GRATE the bread on the grating disk of a food processor to the desired texture, or with a hand grater. We prefer a coarser crumb that provides crunch, rather than the fineness of commercial breadcrumbs.
4. STORE the crumbs in an airtight jar. When ready to use, measure out what you need for the recipe.
5. HEAT a bit of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat (1/4 cup olive oil for 4 tablespoons crumbs). Add the breadcrumbs and seasonings. Toast the breadcrumbs for 2 to 3 minutes, or until they are golden.
This version of Bucatini With Anchovies & Chilies uses anchovy paste and adds kale, with a light dusting of crumbs. Here’s the recipe from The Culinary Chronicles.
RECIPE: BUCATINI WITH ANCHOVIES & CHILI FLAKES
This Calabrian dish, courtesy of Acadamia Barilla is made with bucatini, a thick spaghetti-like pasta with a hole running through the center. The name comes from the Italian buco, “hole” and bucato, “pierced.” You can substitute any ribbon pasta.
This dish is traditionally served on—but not confined to—Christmas Eve. You can make it in just 25 minutes, anytime you have a hankering for anchovies.
If you don’t want the brininess of anchovies but want a depth of piquant umami flavor, substitute anchovy paste.
Serve the dish with a full-bodied red wine.
Ingredients For 4 Servings
1. BRING a large pot of water to a boil. While it heats…
2. RINSE the anchovies well under running water and debone them. Place a pan over low heat and add half the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the anchovies and cook for a couple of minutes, until the anchovies break down. While the anchovies are cooking…
3. PLACE another pan with the remaining oil over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and chili flakes. Toast the breadcrumbs for 2 to 3 minutes, or until they are golden.
4. ADD the salt and cook the bucatini following the package instructions. Drain the pasta when done and toss with the anchovies and toasted breadcrumbs.