Dahlia, who is in her adolescent years, enjoys snacking on flakes of sea salt and eating them like little potato chips out of her hand. Therefore, 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 go in the pasta that I was going to make later that night; they were supposed to be salty and crunchy, with a hint of chile-driven heat and a funky dose of umami; all of these characteristics were there. However, I couldn’t deny that on their own, they had a very good flavour.
Dahlia sarcastically said, “Who needs pasta? Let’s just eat bowls of bread crumbs for supper!”
I had a better notion, or at the very least, one that was more motherly. Instead of omitting the spaghetti altogether, I would use just half of the quantity that I normally prepare and cover the top with twice as many crunchy bread crumbs. To prevent the bread crumbs from falling off the spaghetti, I’d need to use a sauce. I think that sautéed eggplant and tomatoes would act as both an adhesive and a finishing touch for the meal. And a little handful of capers would give it the perfect amount of acidity.
This vibrant, flavorful, eggplant pasta dish with a crumb topping was born out of need.
Pangrattato is the name of a traditional Italian topping that consists of toasted bread crumbs that have been seasoned. Bread crumbs are seasoned with any combination of garlic, pepper flakes, herbs, and anchovies, and they are then sprinkled over pasta or cooked vegetables in Southern Italy in lieu of more costly grated cheese. This frugal topping is quite popular in that region.
A little coating of dust is usually sufficient. On the other hand, an avalanche is my go-to choice for this meal. If you consume the meal straight away, the texture of the crumbs, which are crunchy, provides a pleasant contrast to the smooth eggplant and luscious tomatoes. But even when it is at room temperature, it is delicious because the crumbs become more tender and take on a texture that is almost like flesh. You cannot go wrong in any scenario.
One word of caution: do not utilise the sawdust-like crumbs that are included in the cardboard cans. They are of a consistency that would not add any texture to the meal. Homemade bread crumbs from a stale, delicious loaf are great. I store the stale ends of bread loaves in a bag made of fabric in the pantry, and when the bag becomes full, I ground the bread stales up in the food processor (use the large-holed grating disc first, then whirl them with the blade). But if you think it would be too much labour, you can use panko bread crumbs instead. They will work almost as well.
When you are ready to serve the dish, mix some of the crumbs with the pasta that is still in the pan. The leftover crumbs may then be used as an additional topping at the meal, or they can be directly snacked on if that’s how things are done in your home.