Nancy Harmon Jenkins’ Pasta con la Mollica
Celebrated food writer and story teller Nancy Harmon Jenkins, shares her recipe for Pasta con la Mollica with the readers of The Cold Press, taking us to incredibile Calabria. You can read our interview with Nancy Harmon Jenkins here.
Pasta con la Mollica (Calabria)
Nancy Harmon Jenkins
Pasta with breadcrumbs may seem like an odd combination but, as a Calabrese cook once told me: “Breadcrumbs make dishes grow.” In other words, a dish can be stretched to feed more people simply by adding breadcrumbs. Among poor country people, breadcrumbs often take the place of grated cheese; toasted in a little oil, possibly with some finely chopped almonds added, they make a pasta topping that is just as pleasing, if not so rich, as grated cheese. And the olive oil, undistracted by other flavours, really shines.
While unseasoned, commercially available breadcrumbs may be fine for many purposes, they’re not so good for a pasta topping, which benefits from the irregular texture and crunch of home-made breadcrumbs. Fortunately, breadcrumbs are very easy to make and if you produce more than you need, they store well in the freezer. Using stale, country-style white bread, cut off the crusts if they are very thick and crusty, then slice the white crumb of the bread into big cubes and process with quick spurts in a food processor until the crumbs are the desired consistency.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
1 cup unflavoured bread crumbs, preferably home-made
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil. (We used Dradista from the Librandi Family)
1 garlic clove, chopped
8 salted anchovies, rinsed, filleted and chopped; or 16 fillets of oil-
packed anchovies, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato concentrate
1/2 cup coarsely chopped black olives
2 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed, drained and coarsely chopped
500 g. short, stubby pasta (e.g., penne, ziti and the like)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup minced flat-leaf parsley, or parsley and fresh basil mixed
Add the breadcrumbs to a skillet and set over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until they start to turn golden. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil and continue cooking and stirring until the breadcrumbs are fully golden brown and crisp. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In another skillet, add 2 more tablespoons of oil and the garlic. Set over medium-low heat and cook very gently, stirring, until the garlic softens, then stir in the chopped anchovies. Cook gently, crushing the anchovies in the oil with a fork to make a creamy paste. Add the tomato concentrate, olives and capers and stir well. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Bring 6 quarts (a large pan) of salted water to a rolling boil and add the pasta. Just before the pasta is done, set the anchovy-olive sauce over medium-low heat to come to a simmer before dressing the pasta. Add 2 tablespoons of hot pasta water to the sauce and continue simmering while you finish the pasta. Have ready a warm bowl for the pasta.
Drain the pasta and transfer immediately to the warm bowl. Add half the sautéed breadcrumbs and toss, then add the anchovy-olive sauce and lots of black pepper and toss again. Garnish with the remaining crisp breadcrumbs and the minced herbs, dress with a spoonful of olive oil, and serve immediately.