Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino with Pangrattato (Poor Man’s Parmesan)

Pangrattato, italian for ‘grated bread’, or ‘breadcrumb(s)’, is a flavorful topping for pasta, risotto, or veggies. It is a condiment that has its roots in Italy’s cucina povera. Literally meaning ‘poor kitchen’, cucina povera refers to a style of cooking from the poorer communities in Italy that aimed to make great, delicious food by utilizing whatever simple ingredients (including ‘nose to tail’ eating) were available at that time. Making pangrattato was and is a great way to use up stale bread and it’s an easy, cheap way to bring something tasty to the table. 


At times, pangrattato is referred to as ‘the poor man’s Parmesan’ as it is said it was used to replace expensive grated cheeses in various recipes. I am not sure it was actually supposed to trick you into thinking it’s cheese (it doesn’t taste like cheese), but these toasted, fragrant breadcrumbs do add a lovely savory flavor to a simple pasta dish plus they add an interesting, crunchy texture that cheese doesn’t. A win win situation if you ask me.


To make a basic pangrattato, all you really need is some stale bread and olive oil. However, while technically any type of stale bread can be made into pangrattato, tasty breads make tasty crumbs, so a crusty sourdough loaf makes the best crumbs in my opinion. If you’re using some good bread, you don’t even really need to add a lot of other aromatics, but the recipe below is just a suggestion – the garlic, lemon and herbs make the pangrattato just that little bit more interesting, meaning you hardly need to do any real work for the main dish itself.

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In the recipe below, I’ve combined the pangrattato with a simple spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino made with ingredients you possibly have in your house already (while everything sounds better in Italian, the name of the dish just means spaghetti with garlic, oil and pepper flakes). The fresh parsley and lemon in both the pangrattato and pasta can be substituted for any other fresh, or even dried herb of your liking, but they can even be fully omitted if you don’t have any. 

Honestly, I could just eat plain pasta with a little bit of oil and pangrattato.


Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino with Pangrattato (Poor Man’s Parmesan)

0.0 rating
  • V
  • VG
  • DF
Recipe for simple spaghetti with garlic, oil, red pepper flakes and toasted breadcrumbs
  • Difficulty:Easy
  • Prep Time:15 mins
  • Cook Time:30 mins
  • Serves:4
  • Freezable:No

Nutrition per portion

  • For the pangrattato:
  • 250g* stale white-, or sourdough bread (about half a loaf; yields 2 – 2.5 cups coarsely grated crumbs)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Few sprigs fresh flat leaf parsley, or ½ tablespoon fresh rosemary (or ½ teaspoon of whatever herb you like)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • *for this recipe, I’ve used about half a loaf of bread (about 250g), but use however much stale bread you’ve got – a few slices are enough to make a decent amount of pangrattato – and adjust the recipe accordingly
  • -
  • for the pasta:
  • 400g spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or crushed
  • 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon capers, roughly chopped (optional)
  • Few sprigs of fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • Salt, to boil the pasta
Make pangrattato:  
  1. Fully dry out your stale bread: Making breadcrumbs is easier when your bread is mostly dried out. If necessary, to ‘dry’ the bread, shred, or cut (watch out for your fingers if the bread is hard!) the stale bread into chunks. Heat a frying pan on medium heat. Toast the diced bread until most of it is dried out. The bread doesn’t need to turn golden, or super crunchy yet! Note: if your food processor can’t process semi-hard ingredients, skip this step and simply add the stale bread to the machine in step 2.
  2. Make breadcrumbs: Place your dried out, stale bread in a food processor. Pulse the bread a few times until the mixture looks like verycoarse
  3. Add flavorings: To the bread in the food processor add 2 cloves of garlic, zest of 1 lemon, fresh parsley (or your other herbs),salt, and onetablespoon of oil. Pulse a couple more times until all ingredients are chopped up and combined well and the bread has a fine to coarse crumbly texture with some larger coarse crumbs remaining (You can, of course, make a very fine crumb, but I like to keep some larger crumbs to create different textures).
  4. Fry the pangrattato: heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in the frying pan over medium-high heat. Fry the contents from the food processor, stirring and tossing frequently until the bread turns golden brown and crunchy.
  5. Let the breadcrumbs cool completely, then store in an airtight container.
  For the pasta:  
  1. Cook the pasta: Bring a pot of generously salted water to a boil. Cook the spaghetti al dente according to instructions on the package. Reserve 100ml of cooking liquid before draining the pasta.
  2. When the pasta is almost done: heat 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the thinly sliced, or crushed garlic cloves, roughly chopped capers, red pepper flakes and finely chopped fresh parsley. Sauté for 1 – 2 minutes until fragrant, but without burning the garlic. Remove pan from heat.
  3. When the pasta is cooked al dente, transfer it to the pan with the garlic and other ingredients. Add the lemon juice and stir to coat the pasta in the ‘sauce’. Add some of the reserved cooking liquid from the pasta if the pasta seems too dry.
  4. Serve pasta immediately with a generous amount of crunchy pangratatto sprinkled on top.

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