Pasta Ascuitta (Angel Hair Pasta with Crispy Breadcrumbs)
The genius of this dish, made from very humble ingredients, is the crunch of the salty breadcrumbs in contrast to the chew of the pasta. Even if you think you don’t like anchovies, give this dish a try. There is something irresistible about the salty, crunchy breadcrumbs packed with umami. If you’re still not convinced, try using half the amount of anchovies. I promise you, the next time you make this dish, you’ll follow the suggested amount. This may sound like a lot of oil but remember, it’s the only “sauce” in the dish. It works out to about 2-3 tablespoons per serving. A food processor renders the job of making the breadcrumbs a breeze. Do not use packaged breadcrumbs. It is essential that they be large and soft, but made from bread that is a couple of days old for the proper texture. It is best to use bread that was baked in a pan rather than free-form as the ratio of soft, inner white crumb to crust will be greater. Many supermarkets carry a hearty artisan-style sliced sandwich bread if you don’t have a good Italian bakery nearby and don’t want to make your own. You want a dense crumb which this type of bread has. It will work just fine using the food processor method below.
Servings Prep Time
6people 20minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
40minutes 48hours
Servings Prep Time
6people 20minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
40minutes 48hours
  1. Put the bread in a paper bag for two days at room temperature. This will allow the bread to become stale, but not hard.
  2. On serving day, make the breadcrumbs from the stale bread in one of two ways. Cut the bread into 1-inch-thick slices.
  3. Cut off the crust from each slice. Cut the slices into one inch cubes.
  4. Process the bread cubes in a food processor to yield coarse (but not chunky) crumbs.
  5. Without a food processor, cut the loaf in quarters and scoop out the center of the loaf. Using your hands, crumble the center of the loaf into coarse crumbs. Then using the teardrop-shaped holes of a grater, grate the white bread that is clinging to the crust.
  6. Measure out and reserve 6 cups of crumbs. Save any additional for another purpose.
  7. Bruise the garlic with the side of a chef’s knife.
  8. Heat the olive oil in large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Sauté the garlic (if using) until dark golden, almost brown, then discard. Add bread crumbs to the oil and stir constantly till light golden.
  9. Push the breadcrumbs away from the center of the skillet and add anchovies and their oil. Working quickly so the breadcrumbs don’t burn, heat and stir the anchovies, smashing and breaking them into bits. When the anchovies are in small bits, mix them into the crumbs. Season the crumbs with freshly ground black pepper. Continue cooking the breadcrumb-anchovy mixture, stirring constantly, breaking up any remaining bits of anchovy, until the breadcrumbs are crispy. Most of the crumbs will be golden brown but some will be darker. Be careful not to burn the crumbs. There will still be some visible bits of anchovy when the breadcrumbs have gotten crispy.
  10. Remove the skillet from the heat. If not using immediately, stir the anchovy-crumb mixture every few minutes for about 10 minutes so the crumbs on the bottom don’t burn from the residual heat. Reserve the anchovy-breadcrumb mixture. Making the crumb mixture a few hours in advance makes the final put-together less stressful.
  11. Cook one pound of angel hair pasta or spaghettini in generously salted water until al dente. I usually use about 1/3 cup salt for six quarts of water. If the crumbs were browned earlier, warm them gently while the pasta cooks.
  12. When the pasta is finished, pour some of the pasta-cooking water into the serving bowl to warm it. Drain the pasta well but do not rinse.
  13. Toss the pasta with the crumbs. If the skillet is large enough, it is best to toss the breadcrumbs and pasta there. It will keep the pasta warmer. Season with a generous amount of black pepper. Taste and adjust salt. It is entirely likely that no additional salt will be needed.
  14. Empty the water from the serving bowl. Dry the bowl, pour in the pasta and serve. It is not traditional to serve cheese with this pasta.
Recipe Notes

If any pasta is leftover, the breadcrumbs will lose their crispiness but still taste great for a quick lunch (in our house, mostly eaten furtively in secret before someone else nabs it).  However, this pasta makes the foundation for a great frittata.  We won’t be covering the making of a frittata for a while but stay tuned.

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