I love bread.
Not something hard to say, when your blog is called "the oven" and was originally started with baking in mind rather than food in general, as the focus rather turned out to be. (I never could keep my mind concentrated on one single topic, too much interesting stuff out there.)
As much as I love bread, I hate wasting it. In part it must have to do for my passion for it, but I rather believe that my maternal grandparents are to blame (or praise, depending on your point of view). Having lived through WWII and food rationing, they had a careful attitude to food waste, yet not guilt-ridden like the grandparents of a few school friends I got to know better during my childhood. If you exclude bread, that is. I cannot remember a piece of bread being thrown away: stale bread would always be used somehow, eventually as bread crumbs if no other idea popped up. I can still se the huge brad crumbs jar in my grandparents cupboard as if I had it before my eyes.
I am not as intense on consuming bread to its last crumb though: I do throw away left over bread from time to time, especially when I forget a little pieces at the bottom of the bread box, if only because I am not 100% sure those multicoloured moulds would be good for my health. Nonetheless, since I started cooking, I have always had a number of handy recipes for stale bread, from appetisers to sweets. Far from being an advantage, when Derrick announced the theme for IMBB25, I somewhat lost all the time till this afternoon thinking about what to cook. Too much choice can be a pain.
In the end I decided to pick a dish that reveals not only how bread can be used to prepare a nice dish, but rather a whole culinary philosophy of "cucina povera", the cooking of the poor. Instead of using rich ingredients flavour comes from the smart use of cheap but richly aromatic market bargains, to give a dish that satisfies not only the belly but also the senses. Bread crumbs belong perfectly to this concept, and were often used, toasted, in Southern Italian cooking as substitute for grated cheese by those who could not afford even this basic ingredient: some authors go as far as calling toasted bread crumbs "poor man's Parmesan".
Pasta c'anciova e muddica, Pasta with anchovies and bread crumbs, is a Sicilian dish that exists in a number of versions throughout the island. The main difference (there are other) between the various versions can be summed up by those in the eastern version championed in Palermo and the western from Catania, depending on the issue of tomato, used as sauce or concentrate in the former, but rejected by the latter. I prefer the simplicity of the Catanese version, the minimalist ingredient list and pure taste it produces. As you would expect, the name tells it all: the main flavour comes from bread crumbs and salted anchovies (once a very cheap ingredient, today incredibly less so), paired by garlic, onion and a little chilli for an even more intense taste experience. The anchovies, melted in olive oil, give an earthy full-bodied aroma to the whole dish and create a seducing contrast with the pungent bulbs, nutty crumbs and hot chilli. Just goes to show that being poor does not preclude having perfectly working taste buds.
Sicilian Pasta with anchovies and bread crumbs - Pasta c'anciova e muddica
160 g spaghetti
4 salt cured anchovies, possibly the large Italian or Spanish kind, desalted, heads and bones removed, or 8 anchovy filets
1 large garlic clove
1 small onion
25-30 g bread crumbs, preferably made by grating dry bread (it gives a better texture than commercial bread crumbs)
some dried chilli pepper (to taste)
a teaspoon of grated Sicilian pecorino or Ragusano (optional)
3 tablespoons of good quality extra-virgin olive oil
18-20 g salt for the pasta
Coarsely chop the anchovies, slice the garlic and onion paper-thin and set aside.
While you bring the water for the pasta to a boil (1.5 litre) heat the bread crumbs in a pan over a medium flame. Stir continuously till the bread crumbs become a nice tan colour. Remove the pan from the flame, pour half the EVO oil into it and stir till all the bread crumbs are coated. Set aside.
When the water boils, salt it and add the spaghetti. While the spaghetti cook heat the remaining EVO oil in a pan on a medium-high flame. Once hot, add the chopped anchovies and, helping yourself with a wooden spoon, mash them till they dissolve into the oil. Add the onion and garlic and let cook till they just start to become golden, then add the chilli, reduce the heat and cook for another two minutes; set aside.
The pasta should be ready and al dente by now: drain it well and dress it with the anchovy-onion-garlic mixture. Add two thirds of the bread crumbs, the parsley and cheese (if using) and stir well. Divide among two plates and cover with a last sprinkling of toasted bread crumbs.