It must have been Jamie Oliver – a man now living in a (cough, cough) ‘peasant’ kitchen garden, most recently filmed behind the wheel of the country/city person’s vehicle of choice, the Land Rover* - who alerted me to pangritata, when he was younger, thinner and often on the ABC. Collectively, we were pasta-obsessed in the nineties, but not so much a decade later. Perhaps it was a case of overkill? Pasta is, however, about as cheap and cheerful a meal as you could wish and all it requires resides, long-term, in the pantry.
Pangritata is a Southern Italian stroke of genius; a peasant substitute for Parmesan cheese born both of necessity and poverty. Modest ingredients – stale bread; hardy herbs, picked from a Mediterranean hillside; a clove of crushed garlic and a few anchovies or olives from the stores – fried until crisp and golden in olive oil, suggest little, but pangritata is oh so much more.
Drying rosemary at home is profoundly simple. I’ve never bought it dried and neither, I think, should you. I heartily recommend any of the following methods for procuring your rosemary, all of which I have been, at one time or another, according to the state of my wallet, guilty: buy a plant, pot it nicely and harvest when the sprigs are long and lush; buy a bundle from your favourite grocer, use some fresh (that scent…crushed between the fingers…bliss) and dry the remainder; find a friendly neighbour with a healthy bush growing in their garden and ask, politely, for a sprig or two; or, wait until it’s dark, grab a pair of scissors, check over your shoulder and discreetly snip away.
Take the sprigs (the longer, the better), tie them together at the base with string or sewing thread (whatever you have to hand) and hang them somewhere dry and airy. In a week or two, strip, then crumble the needles into a jar and store for up to six months in the pantry.
Pasta with pangritata – feeds 2
You may be left with some pangritata crumbs, but they keep, and well, in an airtight container. Scatter as you would parmesan. I’m generous with oil – always, and make no apology – but please, don’t be tempted to use less than 2 tablespoons when frying off these crumbs. The oil is precisely what makes them so good.
1 onion, chopped
1 x 400g tin of tomatoes
Pinch of chilli powder (optional)
Pasta (as much as you and your companion will eat)
2 slices of bread (any kind, preferably stale)
4-5 anchovies OR 1/3 cup pitted black olives
1 teaspoon dried, chopped rosemary
Warm 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan. Add the onion and sauté until soft then tip in the tomatoes, juices and all, the chilli powder if you’re using it, and bubble away for 5-10 minutes. If your tomatoes are whole, break them up with a wooden spoon while this is happening.
Get your pasta cooking.
Toast the bread in a toaster, even if it’s very stale. Tear into pieces and whiz to chunky crumbs in a food processor with the anchovies (or olives) and rosemary. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan. When hot, add the breadcrumbs and fry until golden, toasty and fragrant. Remove to a plate to cool.
When the pasta is cooked, drain it and toss through the tomato sauce. Warm gently and serve in bowls topped generously with the pangritata.
*Good for you, Jamie. Good for us. You’ve done an excellent, repeat, excellent job of making people approach food in a new light. I love you for it despite that supercilious comment.
Kathryn at Limes and Lycopene is hosting the second round of her Pantry Challenge. The challenge is to use just what's on Kathryn's list of pantry basics. You have until the 30th of November to join in.