I contend that Pangrattato is Carbonara’s hipster vegetarian cousin.
But before I back up my belief, I have to tell you guys about the wildest weather weekend we’ve seen here in Toronto in years. It’s mid April. Time for grass turning lovely shades of green, even needing cutting; daffodils and crocuses are mature and ready to make way for the magnolia blossoms. Sure, the odd rain day, but that only means even more blossoms to burst up soon after. Instead, we got a doozy of an ICE storm. The winds howled, swirled snow and ice pellets everywhere. The ice hitting the windows sounded like bb gunfire at times. The waves were threatening, the waters churned, and the whitecaps looked angry. By the time it was done, tens of thousands had lost power, majestic mature trees were down all throughout the city, and the roads were one huge skating rink. Having written all of the above, I never ventured outside. It SOUNDED cold enough for me to bunk down in the condo with the cats, a blanket and Netflix. But Jim was brave enough to go out and explore the damage. Here’s our backyard, and also some of the poor trees that fell victim to the storm.
So much for April! We should be thinking lighter. Lighter weight clothing, lighter weight bedding, and lighter meals. We should be able to put away the heavy stews and braises and replace them with lighter salads and grilled meats of all sorts. But no, yesterday I made goulash soup, and everyone I know is still making comfort food.
I guess this Spaghetti Pangrattato is a form of comfort food though. It is pasta after all. And it is a pretty light dish at that. So maybe this is the perfect transitional dish for us this year. It’s a go-to for me, whether for lunch or a light dinner. Or even a midnight snack! Like Aglio e Olio, it is so simple and yet results in such a fabulous combination of flavours. I remember the first time I made it at home- I must have been in my late 20’s, and an Italian friend described it to me. So I tried to do it justice. I already knew I’d like the idea of fried breadcrumbs (see the next paragraph) – my German mum would drizzle a combo of breadcrumbs fried in butter over a whole steamed cauliflower, and it was sublime.
Pangrattato is an Italian dish, which at its most basic is sautéed bread crumbs. Yep, bread crumbs. One theory as to how it got started, is that sautéeing some garlic, pepper and breadcrumbs in olive oil would make for a lovely sauce to serve over spaghetti, since the final flavour somewhat mimics the flavour of parmesan cheese. And for those who couldn’t afford good Parmigiano-Reggiano but still wanted that flavour, this would be the way.
So yes, it is the simple combination of olive oil, garlic, breadcrumbs, some basil or oregano, and freshly cracked black pepper. You can also add lemon zest (you know I will always do this!!) red pepper flakes (yep, I add this as well) and some will even add chopped walnuts or sardines. Doing this takes the dish beyond what it was meant to be, but that is alright. Of course, you could also add a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, but that kind of defeats the whole reason for the invention of the dish!!
And you can see why I view this dish as Carbonara’s vegetarian cousin. It is such a simple sauce, just like Carbonara. But without the bacon or egg. Or cheese. But like Carbonara, this is truly a case of the quality of the ingredients affecting the outcome of the dish. I actually try to only use pasta that was actually made in Italy (it’s a digestion thing for me) and if you try it, you will notice a difference in flavour. In fact, every time we have been in Italy, I load up- forget the shoes, my suitcase is filled with bags of pasta! Below are shots from a fabulous shop in Naples. Check your local Euro import boutique or superior grocery stores.
For the breadcrumbs, you need to use fresh. I don’t know about you, but if I have a couple of slices of bread leftover that aren’t the freshest anymore, I quickly whiz them up in my food processor, and add them to a bag I keep in the freezer. These breadcrumbs will give you the best texture, and will be able to soak up the garlic scented olive oil as they are sautéed up in the pan. If you use the store bought fine crumbs, they will not be able to soak up any of the flavour before they turn black. You really want the slight softness of fresh crumbs- they are larger, and more craggy, which is best for browning and absorbing flavours.
Just make sure that the rest of your ingredients are as fresh as possible. You don’t need to use fresh oregano or basil from the market, you can use dried, but don’t use old, grey dust from your spice cupboard. Please, clean out your spice cupboard regularly, that jar of dried marjoram in the back that has been there for 4 years really is a waste of space- there is nothing left in there to enhance a dish!
After saying that this is a vegetarian or even a vegan dish, I will totally understand if you add the sardines, some freshly grated parmesan cheese, or even an egg on top! I love me an egg wherever I can add one, so I will often serve this with a poached egg as a topper. I will often drizzle Walnut Oil over everything, if I’m not using chopped walnuts. It adds a lovely touch.
Poaching an egg doesn’t have to be intimidating. Bring water to a boil in a medium to large sauce pan and reduce to a bubbling simmer. In the meantime, crack an egg into a small sieve held over a cup. This allows the loose bits of white to separate from the rest of the egg. Let it sit for about 15 seconds or so. When the water is ready, give it a good stir to start a whirlpool of sorts. Take the small sieve and tip it into the vortex of the water in the middle, letting the egg slide out into the water. Let it simmer away for about 2.5-3 minutes, depending on how well done you like your egg. The white should have solidified around the yolk. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a paper towel. Then serve it how you like! I added a link to my method in the recipe Notes below.
And if you’d like my Carbonara recipe, just click here! One of the best dishes ever invented! It’s like Breakfast pasta!! Old photo below- I really need to update it! Guess I’ll be making Carbonara soon!!
The most simple ingredients create a delightful rustic pasta dish. Use the best quality you can find, and this will become a go-to dish any time of the day or week!
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 clove garlic peeled and finely minced
- 1 tsp red chilli flakes
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs whiz up some slices of sourdough in your food processor for best flavour!
- 1 tsp dried basil or oregano you can also use fresh
- 8 oz 200 g good quality spaghetti
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon the same one you zested above
- Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
- 4 tbsp fresh parsley chopped
Heat a skillet over medium heat and add 2 tbsp of olive oil.
Add the garlic and stir for one minute.
Add the chilli flakes and the lemon zest. Stir to combine.
Add the breadcrumbs. Keep stirring until they have become golden brown and crunchy (be careful to not let them or the garlic burn).
Add the oregano or basil and stir through.
Remove to a small bowl and set aside. Do not clean the skillet, you will be using it later.
Boil the pasta according to the directions in a pot of well salted water. Cook to al dente (about 9 minutes for most spaghetti) Drain. Toss with the olive oil and lemon juice.
In the meantime, bring the skillet back to medium heat. Add the pasta and warm through.
Add the pangrattato mixture and toss to coat. Remove from the heat.
Season with salt and pepper and toss with the parsley.
Add poached or sunny side up eggs. See here for my poached egg method!
Smoked sardines (loosely chopped) or chopped walnuts can also be added to the pasta when adding the lemon juice.