I have always been somewhat distrustful of carb-on-carb dishes, rather like a 6-year old facing a mysterious pile of kale or aubergine for the first time, every single time. Give me bread or potatoes, not a bloody chip butty. The idea of eating rice alongside a bowl of ramen still makes my stomach turn, as does the culinary travesty known here as yakisoba pan. It’s been 5 years now since I’ve been living and breathing all things Japan and I still can’t get behind stir-fried noodles in a bread roll. (WHY JAPANESE PEOPLE, WHY?*)
But crispy garlicky breadcrumbs on spaghetti – ah, now this is a dish I can get behind.
There are many variants on this dish, though the recipe I initially used was one I found while browsing smitten kitchen for Things To Make With Stuff I Already Have. It wasn’t new to me, but I’d never quite worked up the appetite to try making this myself – I mean, bread on noodles. All that starch! All these missed opportunities! For the whole of my student life I ate endless rounds of avocado toast and kimchi stew, which are good and delicious things, but I could also have been eating (cheap!!) garlicky breadcrumb spaghetti at 1 in the morning.
Still, 24 is not too late to have made this, and I am very happy to be proved partially wrong in my prejudice against carb-on-carb foods…
Pangrattato – which is really just grated bread – is known as the ‘poor man’s Parmesan’ in Italy, and after this recipe I can see why. When you toast breadcrumbs with garlic, olive oil, salt and herbs, the results are nothing short of miraculous: crunchy, umami-packed and a pretty fine stand-in for grated cheese. Although they probably wouldn’t use as much garlic in Italy as I do. At least 4 cloves per person, to my mind, is a good starting point. These breadcrumbs would be spectacular on a cheesy gratin, roasted vegetables, oeufs en cocotte. Or maybe. Even. On. Rice.
There. I said it.
If you like having specific quantities, the original recipe provides them, but aside from measuring my spaghetti, I find myself adjusting recipes automatically to suit my own tastebuds, and so should you. The original recipe uses fresh rosemary, which I do not because it’s expensive here. Use herbs you like. Parsley is lovely, but I might try this with chopped shiso next time. I like more capers than recipes ever use because I am a salt fiend, and 1/3 cup of panko breadcrumbs per person feels about right. (Don’t worry about leftovers. You’ll eat them. Promise.) You don’t need cheese, but a goodly shower of Pecorino or Parmesan takes this plate of spaghetti to the next level of heaven. Try not to forget adding lemon zest – while not strictly necessary, it breathes a little brightness and lightness into the dish.
P.S. This is also Accidentally Vegetarian! Sometimes I find more protein necessary – a piece of grilled chicken, or some slices of prosciutto or what have you will round it out quite nicely.
spaghetti con pangrattato | extra-garlicky breadcrumbed spaghetti with a crispy fried egg
loosely adapted from smitten kitchen/food 52
In a glug or two of olive oil, watch several cloves of minced garlic turn soft gold, before throwing in a shower of panko breadcrumbs, chopped basil/other herb, red pepper flakes, lemon zest and a wee pinch or two of salt. Let it all crisp to a gorgeous golden brown, then remove from the heat.
Boil your pasta in salted water till almost al dente. Drain, reserving some of the pasta water – more than you think you will need.
In the skillet, heat a glug of olive oil per egg, and when that’s very hot – like, almost smoking – crack your eggs in and watch them bubble and turn lace-edged. Wait for their bottoms to brown for a minute or two before removing and draining on paper towels.
Toss the pasta over high heat in the skillet with some olive oil – erring on the left side of liberal – reserved pasta water, chopped capers and a generous bunch of finely chopped parsley. You may find that you need quite a bit of oil and pasta water to loosen it up, so make sure you have enough of both on hand.
Ladle into plates, top with crispy breadcrumb mixture, optional cheese and egg. Sprinkle with black pepper. Stab your yolk and watch it ooze. Eat, ravenously, while listening to George Michael.
*Unlike Jason Atsugiri’s skit, which really should be renamed ‘Why Chinese People Why’ for its analysis of kanji, which were actually imported over from China, yakisoba pan is almost certainly Japan’s invention alone.