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Grateful for Pangrattato

(post, Kathleen Bauer)

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You know the recession has hit home when the cover article of Gourmet magazine, bastion of culinary entitlement, is titled "One Terrific Ham Makes Six Incredible Dishes!"

As so many articles are telling us, though, you don't have to give up flavor just because the piggy bank has that scary hollow sound. In Italy, or so the story goes, in one of those times when the poor were getting poorer and they couldn't afford their beloved Parmigiano to sprinkle on their pasta, some genius fried bread crumbs in olive oil and garlic and used that instead, hoping her family wouldn't notice.

They were so hungry they most likely didn't, but she should have run down to the local patent office (surely the Romans had invented patents by then, hadn't they?) right then and there to tie up the rights.

The dish, called pangrattato or pasta con la mollica (mollica or modica being slang for breadcrumbs) was so popular it hung on even when better times (and the cheese) returned, where it was often modified with all kinds of condiments like olives, basil, anchovies, capers, mushrooms, etc., etc.

I'd never made it before, but while rummaging through the pantry as I so often do when I'm stuck for what to make for the ravening hordes (well, OK, Dave and Mr. B), I ran across a bag of garlic croutons that was reasonably fresh. All it took was crushing them with a rolling pin, mixing in a little lemon zest and parmesan, a side dish of sautéed rapini and, voilà, dinner! Genius!


3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-1 1/2 c. crushed bread crumbs
Zest of one lemon
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c. parsley, chopped fine (optional)

Pour olive oil in skillet, add garlic and, while the pan heats, briefly sauté it, being sure not to brown the garlic. Add bread crumbs and cook, stirring frequently, until brown. Cool. Mix with remaining ingredients and toss with one lb. cooked pasta. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

 If using already toasted bread crumbs simply mix in with hot garlic and oil and cool. If using toasted garlic croutons, crush and proceed to mixing with other ingredients.

Optional ingredients include anchovies, capers, olives, mushrooms, fresh chopped herbs, red pepper flakes, etc.