Comfort and simplicity: bread crumbs and water

Posted 8/17/20

When the world is spinning and things feel out of control, the simplest of rituals are often the most comforting. This includes the manner in which we eat. Uncomplicated and resourceful meals are …

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Comfort and simplicity: bread crumbs and water


When the world is spinning and things feel out of control, the simplest of rituals are often the most comforting. This includes the manner in which we eat. Uncomplicated and resourceful meals are soothing and rewarding. It’s not necessary to deliberately skimp, but to use simple, minimal ingredients with little waste; ingredients that are easily purchased or unearthed in our kitchens.

This ethos is present in the following recipe, which takes inspiration from the most basic yet tastiest Italian pasta dishes. Aglio e Olio is a humble Napoli dish consisting of pasta, olive oil, cheese and dried red chili flakes, glistening with reserved pasta water.

If you haven’t added pasta water to your kitchen toolbox, then it’s time you did. The cooking water is loaded with starch and salt, and is a wonderful way to loosen a sauce or moisten noodles. This nifty, no-cost byproduct of the cooking process is best added in the last few minutes of preparing the dish.

Another ingredient in this dish with humble Italian roots is breadcrumbs. Pasta con la mollica is a southern Italian dish in which breadcrumbs are considered part of the cucina povera — the “poor man’s cooking.” It may sound redundant to add bread to pasta, but well-toasted breadcrumbs are a fabulous flavor carrier and a resourceful way to use not-so-fresh bread. And like most dishes born of modest origins, it translates to a timeless and comforting dinner classic.

To this recipe, I add fresh arugula, simply wilted by the heat of the cooked pasta, and bacon, arguably another resourceful and economical food. After all, who can say no to bacon?

Spaghetti With Bacon and Arugula

Active Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 4

8 ounces thick-cut bacon, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup breadcrumbs or panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

1/4 cup plus 1 cup finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound spaghetti

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes, or more to taste

3 cups fresh arugula

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and fry until the fat renders and the bacon is crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a plate lined with a paper towel.

Pour off all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat from the skillet. Add the breadcrumbs and toast over medium heat until golden, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl. Cool to room temperature and then stir in the 1/4 cup of the cheese, salt and black pepper and set aside.

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the pasta 1 minute less than the package instructions for al dente. Scoop out and reserve 1 cup cooking water and drain the pasta.

Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and chili flakes and saute until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the drained pasta, 1/2 cup of the reserved water and the remaining 1 cup cheese, stirring and tossing constantly to melt the cheese and evenly coat the pasta. (If the pasta is too sticky, add additional water to moisten.)

Remove the skillet from the heat and add the bacon, arugula and half of the breadcrumb mixture. Stir to combine and slightly wilt the arugula. Serve immediately with the remaining breadcrumbs for sprinkling.