My daughter Dahlia, who is in her teen years, enjoys snacking on flakes of sea salt and eating them out of hand as if they were little potato chips. As a result, it didn’t come as much of a shock to me when I saw her standing over a newly formed batch of anchovies bread crumbs as she was eating them with a spoon.
They were supposed to be added to the pasta that I was going to make later that evening; they were salty and crunchy, with a bit of chile-driven heat and a funky dose of umami. But I couldn’t deny that, even on their own, they had a decent amount of flavour.
I had a better notion, or at the very least, one that was more motherly. Instead of omitting the spaghetti entirely, I would use just half of the quantity that I normally make and cover the top with two times the amount of crunchy bread crumbs. If I wanted to prevent the bread crumbs from falling off the pasta, I would need to use a sauce. A sauce made of sautéed eggplant and tomatoes would not only hold everything in place but also complete the meal. In addition, a few capers would give it the perfect amount of acidity.
Pangrattato is the traditional name for the seasoned bread crumbs that are toasted and used as a garnish in Italian cuisine. Bread crumbs are seasoned with a variety of ingredients including garlic, pepper flakes, herbs, and anchovies, and they are then used as a frugal topping that is common in Southern Italy. The bread crumbs are sprinkled over pasta or cooked vegetables in lieu of more costly grated cheese.
In most cases, a little coating will do. On the other hand, I think an avalanche might work better for this meal. If you eat the meal straight away, the crispiness of the crumbs creates a lovely contrast with the chewiness of the eggplant and the juiciness of the tomatoes. However, it retains its delicious quality when allowed to come to room temperature, when the crumbs become more tender and take on a consistency that is virtually identical to that of flesh. You can’t possibly end yourself in a worse position.
One important note: the sawdust-like crumbs that are included in the cardboard cans should not be used. They are not going to provide any texture to the meal since they are too fine. Homemade bread crumbs from a stale, delicious loaf are great. When I have enough bread scraps, I put them in a bag made of fabric and store it in the pantry. When the bag is full, I put the bread scraps through the food processor. However, if you find it to be too much of a hassle, you may substitute panko bread crumbs for the same effect.
Before serving, combine a portion of the crumbs with the pasta that is still in the pan. The leftover crumbs may be used as an additional topping at the meal, or they can be directly snacked on if that’s how your family typically does things.