Pasta with breadcrumbs is a simple southern Italian dish born out of necessity in more austere times when frugal home cooks resorted to using breadcrumbs instead of the more expensive cheeses tossed into their pastas, in this case a whole grain spaghetti. I have always loved this idea for its simplicity, robust flavors, and its crunchy texture!
As perfect as it is, this dish can easily be adapted with additions of fresh summer vegetables, such as roasted pumpkin, zucchini, spinach, or whatever is available at your local farmer’s market. A quick and easy rustic southern Italian country pasta that can be whipped up in twenty minutes and served warm or, as I often do, chilled with a light spritz of lemon juice for those hot summer evening suppers.
In the recipe that follows I have listed the vegetables as optional so you can make the simple classic version, or add any vegetables that are available to your liking.
Pasta with Toasted Breadcrumbs (Roasted Pumpkin and Zucchini) serves 3 to 4
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, minced or microplaned
- 1 1/4 cup coarse bread crumbs from a rustic loaf
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
Place the olive oil in a large skillet and warm over moderate heat. When the oil is warm add the garlic and stir into the oil. Promptly add the breadcrumbs and begin stirring continuously while turning the breadcrumbs over for about 5 minutes or until the crumbs are a deep golden brown and crunchy.
Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a bowl and set aside to cool. Can can store the bread crumbs in a lidded jar for several weeks. Very nice sprinkled over a salad as well.
PASTA and SAUCE: serves 3-4
- 1 packet dried pasta; regular or whole grain ( 500g/17.6oz)
- sea salt
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 plump zucchini, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (optional)
- 2 cups diced roasted pumpkin (optional) (see recipe here)
- 4-5 large garlic cloves, minced or microplaned
- 4 anchovy fillets, minced
- ¼ teaspoon red hot chile flakes, or to taste
- ¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley leaves
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
- 1¼ cup toasted bread crumbs
- additional salt to taste
- parsley sprigs for garnish
Fill a large stock pot ¾ full of water and place on the stove over high heat. When the water is rapidly boiling add salt to the water. How much salt? Well, many Italian cooks will say until the water tastes like sea water! The amount is up to you. Add the pasta and stir until submerged in the boiling water. Cook for about 10 minutes stirring from time to time. The pasta should be al dente, particularly for this dish.
While the pasta is cooking you can go ahead and prepare the sauce with the zucchini and roasted pumpkin, if using.
Pace the olive oil in a large skillet set over moderate heat. When the oil is warmed add the anchovies and mash them against the bottom of the pan until they melt into the oil. Increase the heat very slightly and promptly add the garlic and stir the ingredients together. Add the sliced zucchini (if using) and parsley and stir about two minutes. Add the lemon juice and stir. Then add the diced pumpkin (if using) and gently stir until warmed. Remove the pan from the heat while you drain the pasta.
Drain the pasta in a colander and reserve a cup of the hot cooking water to use to thin the sauce if needed.
Place the skillet with the sauce (and vegetables if using) over low heat and add the drained pasta. Gently toss the ingredients together until evenly coated. If the pasta sauce seems very dry add some hot pasta cooking water to the sauce, a tablespoonful at a time, until the sauce is the consistency you prefer, keeping in mind you want the sauce to coat the ingredients without being soupy. Then sprinkle a third of the toasted bread crumbs over the pasta and fold in. Taste and season with additional salt if needed.
Transfer the finished pasta to individual shallow pasta bowls. Spoon any excess sauce over each serving and then sprinkle bread crumbs over each. Garnish with sprigs of parsley and serve promptly along with a bowl of the remaining breadcrumbs on the table.
If you plan to chill the pasta omit the breadcrumbs and add them to the pasta when serving.