Breadcrumbs (yes, breadcrumbs) are the star of this pasta dish

Pangrattato is no more than pulverized stale bread revived in good olive oil, lots of garlic and a few seasonings. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Leave it to the Italians to create spectacular dishes with the most ordinary staples.

Pangrattato is no more than pulverized stale bread revived in good olive oil, lots of garlic and a few seasonings. Thanks to Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s stories of thrifty Sicilian cooks, I no longer take breadcrumbs for granted. They’ve become the prime ingredient when adding crunch, punch, complexity and robustness to the simplest recipes.


It goes without saying that the best breadcrumbs are homemade. Easy and thrifty, this just means stockpiling the heels and crusts of good bread in a paper bag. Store them at room temperature for several days; it’s OK if they harden. A variety of loaves add flavor and interest to the result. Buzz them in the food processor until they’re the texture of coarse sand and store them in an airtight container at room temperature. I use them often in meatloaf and stuffing and to top casseroles, hot dishes, salads and soups.

But my favorite use is Pangrattato, known as the “poor man’s Parmesan.” Simply pan-toast the breadcrumbs in plenty of good olive oil with garlic, a pinch of salt and red pepper flakes until golden, watching carefully so they don’t burn. The dish Pasta Pangrattato is said to have originated in southern Italy, where cooks would grate stale bread over pasta when they couldn’t afford cheese. There are a few variations that families have passed down from generation to generation.

These lovely crumbs make a wonderful alternative to aged cheeses; they cost little and they’re vegan and perfect for those who need to eat dairy-free.

Pasta Pangrattato

Serves 4.

This is one of those last-minute pantry dishes created with what you may already have on hand. The best breadcrumbs are homemade but next choice is panko. If you have any leftover Pangrattatto (doubtful), store in the refrigerator in a covered container and then give it a brief sauté to revive before using. From Beth Dooley.

• 1/4 c. quality olive oil, plus a little more for finishing

• 4 cloves garlic, smashed

• Generous pinch red pepper flakes

• 1 c. fresh breadcrumbs

• Generous pinch coarse salt

• Generous pinch freshly ground black pepper

• 1 lb. fusilli or other spiral pasta

• 1/2 c. rough chopped green olives, plus a few whole olives for garnish

• 1/4 c. chopped sun-dried tomatoes, with 1 tbsp. of their oil

• 1/2 c. roughly chopped parsley, plus more for garnish

• 2 tsp. grated lemon zest

• 1 to 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice, to taste


In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil and add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until they’re fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring, until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes, watching that they don’t burn. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes; drain well, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.

In a large, deep sauté pan, add the hot pasta and toss with the olives, sun-dried tomatoes with their oil and parsley; set over medium-low heat. Toss in the lemon zest, lemon juice and enough pasta water to make a sauce that coats all the ingredients. Cook for about 2 minutes, then toss in the breadcrumb mixture and season to taste. Drizzle the pasta with a little more oil before serving garnished with a little more parsley.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email