Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Oh, My God! I am out of grating cheese!"

I think that I have mentioned this practice before, but I think it is time that I discussed this properly.

In the south of Italy, where most of our relatives are from, it is common to serve spaghetti, or any other form of pasta with Parmesan, Ricotta Salata or Pecorino Romano grated over it. However, in the south, it is not uncommon to be a little short of money. It was common to top the pasta with bread crumbs instead of cheese. Plain would certainly work, but since almost everyone had olive oil up to their ears and herbs grew in some form all around them, it was common to enhance them a bit.
It would greatly enhance the bread crumbs if you toast them in a dry pan, but it would be even better if they were moistened in olive oil and herbs and/or garlic.

Simply coat the bottom of a frying pan with oil. Stir in the bread crumbs to moisten. Toast them by moving the crumbs around constantly for just a minute or two. when the color darkens slightly you may add herbs of your choice(dry might be a good choice here) and salt and pepper to taste. You could also add very finely minced garlic or crushed nuts at this point. Do not allow the garlic to burn, which it will certainly do if you add it too early.
Herb combinations work well, such as chives or onion tops mixed with sage. Dried, powdered sage might not be appropriate here as it makes everything a very disconcerting color. Mincing herbs early in the day and just allowing them to dry for a couple of hours would be fine. You could add fresh herbs at the last second, but be careful not to add them early in the process, as you want the toasting to occur and the moisture from them might hinder that process.
Do not forget to try minced hot red pepper for a distinctly Calabrian taste.

Also, it is a nice dish just to toss freshly cooked pasta with olive oil, then put a large handful of the flavored crumbs in the pasta and toss just before serving, or even at the table.

Fresh bread crumbs would, of course, be best. This would be dry old bread as discussed elsewhere. An alternative would be store bought crumbs, but there is not as much texture. Even better would be Panko to hold up for a few minutes in hot pasta. I feel though, that a more authentic taste comes from dried Italian bread coarsely crushed.

How about serving this with fried Eggplant or Zucchini?

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