You're two ingredients away from pure pasta nirvana—and I guarantee you already have them on hand.
Pasta is never not good. That’s why it’s our go-to when we’re a) feeling lazy and don’t want to go to the store; b) in a snowstorm and can’t go to the store; c) craving carbs. But there’s a big difference between a bowl of plain noodles and a crave-worthy pasta dish. Luckily, I have an easy trick that can always get you from point A to point B—(likely) no trip to the grocery store required.
The key is homemade toasted breadcrumbs—bonus points for garlicky, herb-packed breadcrumbs, but we’ll start with the basic formula. We were reminded of this trick at a recent Sfoglini event, where co-founder Scott Ketchum informed us that the act of topping pasta with breadcrumbs began during the Great Depression, when people didn't have money for cheese but always had stale bread. We're just glad the trend has stood the test of time.
Tear four pieces of bread into bite-sized pieces and place in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until coarse crumbs form (you’ll want about 2 cups). Melt 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter or 1/4 cup olive oil in a large skillet. Add the breadcrumbs and cook over medium heat until toasty and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Season with ½ teaspoon kosher salt and several grinds black pepper. Don’t have any bread on hand? Start with hamburger or hot dog buns, a crusty baguette, English muffins, or the ultimate shortcut: Panko.
Now, here’s how to earn those bonus points:
Add a few chopped garlic cloves to the pan and cook alongside the breadcrumbs.
After you’ve toasted the breadcrumbs, stir in a handful of chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, chives, thyme, rosemary, or oregano.
Add cheese! Stir in ¼ cup grated Pecorino or Parmesan.
Make it spicy: Add crushed red pepper flakes alongside the salt and pepper.
Stir in lemon zest for bright flavor.
Brown the butter before adding the breadcrumbs for a deep, nutty flavor.
If you're making a baked pasta dish, skip the skillet: simply toss the fresh breadcrumbs with the oil and melted butter, season with salt and pepper and add the mix-ins of your choosing, then sprinkle on top of the pasta before baking.
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This formula makes enough breadcrumbs for tonight’s dinner, plus plenty to save for later. Though we obviously advise you use them to top all further pasta dishes here on out, breadcrumbs are also a fabulous addition to soups and stews, roasted vegetables, and fish.