Another super-fast, super-delicious meal. Make the pangrattato first then the rest of it can be cooked in the time it takes for your spaghetti to cook.
Pangrattato is used as a seasoning in some parts of Italy, as an alternative to Parmesan. It isn’t a cheese but seasoned, deep fried breadcrumbs. It has a double role here; to add an extra layer of flavour but also to add texture and crunch to the silky, cream coated spaghetti. It is a useful trick to have in your repertoire when you need to add an extra dimension to a dish, though be aware that it rarely works with tomato-based sauces.
The anchovies are also used here as a seasoning, they dissolve into the oil when cooked and add a hit of warm umami. If you’re one of those who think they don’t like anchovies so are tempted to give this recipe a miss, try it, you will be surprised how completely they disappear yet how dramatically they affect the overall flavours.
RECIPE – for 2 people
1 slice of bread, breadcrumbed
75 ml olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme
125g asparagus, woody ends trimmed
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
5 salted anchovy fillets in oil
a small handful of basil leaves, torn
100 ml double cream
225 g spaghetti
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Make the pangrattato first: tear up the bread – I like to use sourdough for the extra flavour, but you can use whatever you have, white or wholemeal do the same job – and put it into a food processor; whiz it up until it is fully breadcrumbed. A few small lumps are okay, they add variety to the texture, just don’t go so far that you end up with dust. Often you will be told that you will need stale bread to make breadcrumbs, that’s not strictly true. I always use fresh because that’s all I ever have and it makes no difference that I can detect. It is a good way of using up stale bread though.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan and add the thyme, don’t get the oil so hot that it is smoking, if you drop a breadcrumb into it and it sizzles then it is hot enough. When the oil is hot, tip the breadcrumbs into it and fry until they are golden brown and crunchy. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on a couple of changes of kitchen paper, season lightly with salt and pepper.
Strain the hot oil, carefully, through a muslin cloth or kitchen paper into a large frying pan. The oil will have been infused with thyme while cooking the breadcrumbs and this will add to the flavour of your sauce.
Bring a large pan of slightly salted water to the boil for your spaghetti and put the spaghetti in when it reaches a strong rolling boil; the brand that I use takes approximately ten minutes to reach al dente. Meanwhile, steam the asparagus for three or four minutes until the stems are just tender. Remove from the steamer and cut them into 1 cm slices at a slight angle.
Heat the oil in the frying pan, add the garlic and cook gently for a minute or so, then add the anchovy fillets and cook, stirring until they have dissolved into the oil. Add the asparagus, basil leaves and double cream, cook gently for 3 or 4 minutes while the spaghetti finishes. Your spaghetti should be just al dente as it will cook on in the final stage.
Retain a little of the spaghetti water, drain the spaghetti and add it to the asparagus sauce, tossing well and adding a little of the cooking water to loosen the sauce if necessary. Cook gently for a couple of minutes then scatter the pangrattato over the top. Check and carefully adjust the seasoning, bearing in mind that the pangrattato adds seasoning by itself, and serve with a simple green salad.