Spaghetti with Bread Crumbs

For me, this frugal pasta dish ranks among the best things to eat. It has the same appeal as pasta alla carbonara—yet it satisfies even without the pancetta, cheese, and eggs. Crisp bread crumbs seasoned with garlic, pepper, and fennel seeds provide all the flavor. It’s good for when you are feeling like a hermit and there is nothing in the cupboard. Once I made a good version of this pasta using a too-small pot and linguine. Hence its then-title, Broken Linguine with Bread Crumbs. It can also be made with smaller shapes like ziti or strozzapreti, and it’s especially nice with whole wheat or farro pasta.–David Tanis

LC Pantry Pasta Note

Bet you’ve got everything you need for this frugal little weeknight number in your kitchen. All you need now is 15 minutes to pull it together. Seriously. Creating supper from seemingly nothing was never so easy or impressive than with this pantry pasta. The secret lies in using decent—if not superlative—ingredients, such as olive oil, crushed fennel seeds, and cheese. If you’ve got some farro pasta or other nutty, whole grain pasta in your pantry, this is the place to use it.

Spaghetti with Bread Crumbs Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 10 M
  • 20 M
  • Serves 1 (maybe 2)

Ingredients

  • 2- to 4-inch-length dried-out, day-old bread, preferably baguette
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus lots more for drizzling
  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely crushed fennel seeds
  • Salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Generous pinch red pepper flakes
  • 4 ounces spaghetti, linguine, or other similarly shaped pasta
  • Chunk Pecorino Romano, for grating (optional)

Directions

  • 1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until just al dente (usually a little less time than the package instructions indicate).
  • 2. Using a serrated knife, carefully saw the baguette, if using, into thin slices. Using your fingers, crumble the bread to create a nice mixture of coarse and fine crumbs. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the crumbs and gently fry them, stirring occasionally and letting them slowly take on color. (You may need to add up to 2 more tablespoons oil to the skillet, depending on just how many bread crumbs you have.) When the bread crumbs are golden and crisp, add the garlic and fennel seeds, stir, and cook for a minute or so more. Season the crumbs quite generously with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Remove from the heat.
  • 3. Drain the pasta, reserving the cooking water. You don’t need to be obsessive about draining the pasta until no water clings to the strands; in fact you want just a touch of the pasta water to cling to the pasta. Toss the pasta in the skillet with the bread crumb mixture. Drizzle with oil—preferably quite a lot more oil for the best results. If the mixture seems dry, add a dribble of the pasta cooking water. If using, sprinkle with grated Pecorino Romano to taste.
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Testers Choice

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Jo Ann Brown

Dec 10, 2013

My husband doesn't eat much pasta, so it was very nice to try a pasta recipe for one serving. The recipe reflects the Italian frugality that I like so much. Take a heel of bread, an end of cheese, and a few other items that are perpetually in the kitchen and you've got a quick lunch or dinner. Even though my bread was day-old, I was not quite able to get a big range of crumb sizes. There was still too much moisture. However as the crumbs toasted in the pan, they crisped up and I was able to smash them down a bit little more with my spoon to get finer particles. The fennel was an inspired addition and rounded everything out beautifully.

We followed this recipe precisely, increasing the amounts to serve 4 people. Everyone loved this meal and asked that we make it again soon. The bread and fennel crumbs are DELICIOUS and it would make sense to double or triple the quantities to have them on hand for pasta or vegetables. Easy enough for a 10-year-old to put together quickly!

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Robert McCune

Dec 10, 2013

Great recipe for nights when the cupboard is getting bare and you can't stand another takeout meal. This really falls into the "comfort food" category for me. It’s easy to do, because we always seem to have some day-old bread in the house. Any pasta will work, but I think I like the smaller shapes here. [I used ziti]. I think the grated cheese really bumps this up to another level. I didn't miss the pancetta or eggs, although I agree that this is as appealing as pasta alla carbonara. Next time I make this, I will try adding some fresh, finely chopped marjoram or oregano just before serving. I was a little timid with the pepper flakes because of some of my fellow diners...next time I'll be more generous.

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Larry Noak

Dec 10, 2013

This pasta recipe is extremely simple and quick. You can use this as a dinner for one or as an accompaniment to an entrée for two. The only bread crumbs I had on hand were cubes of cornbread in my freezer, so I opted to use 3/4 cup panko instead. This was a great choice. But I think any bread crumbs would do nicely. The dish is wonderful as described, but if you're feeling a bit adventurous, toss the pasta in the skillet with the crumbs and spices, fry the pasta for a couple of minutes, turn off the heat and sprinkle it with the cheese. After you mix it up a little, you can serve it right from the skillet.

Testers Choice
Ayanna Fews

Dec 10, 2013

This could be called the “almost any type of old bread” wonder pasta! So, true confession…I didn't have a baguette or French bread, but I did have some English muffins that met the definition of “dry, day-old” bread, so because I really wanted to give this recipe a try, I commenced making the dish. It was still bread, after all. What a surprise! Such simple ingredients combined together to make a really good dish. I would never have thought to essentially add croutons to spaghetti, but you know what, it was so good! I couldn't get enough of those little crunchy bits with the pasta and cheese. I did opt to add a little Romano cheese, but it really didn't need a lot. What it does need is seasoning. When it says to “generously salt and pepper” the bread crumbs, make sure that you are not shy with the seasoning because it will have to spread throughout the pasta. Also, make sure that your water is well salted, as the recipe states, because this adds to the flavor. Try not to concern yourself with your sodium intake, just concern yourself with making sure that the flavor is right, as the seasoning during these stages make all the difference between having a bland pasta dish to having one that is full of flavor. So simple, yet so good. Will definitely make this one again!

Testers Choice
Elsa M. Jacobson

Dec 10, 2013

Any recipe that uses “frugal” in its description calls out to me! Unlike the description that suggests preparing this for one, I prepared it multi-fold for a gathering, thinking it would be a perfect cooler weather meal for a small crowd. It’s quick to prepare, flavorful with a deeply satisfying combination of garlic, pepper, and fennel seeds, and making it with whole-wheat pasta adds yet another layer of flavor to this delicious mix. That said, the amount of bread for bread crumbs as specified was too much for the pasta, and much of the crisped crumb mixture was left behind after my guests served themselves. We used quite a bit of oil, somewhat beyond a little drizzle atop the finished dish, in addition to the grated cheese topping since the overabundance of bread crumbs made the dish a bit dry. Despite these quibbles, everyone went back for seconds, and I’ll make this again, I’m sure. After all, less bread crumbs happily means an even more frugal dish. What else would I do differently? I might add some vegetables. In keeping with the frugal framework, this recipe could easily accommodate nearly any vegetable, from a (artichoke hearts) to z (zucchini). And I’d like to try it with a smaller shaped pasta for ease of eating as well as visual appeal.

Testers Choice
Linda M.

Dec 10, 2013

This is a simple yet tasty recipe. Unlike Americans, Italians don't mind pairing two carbs together. (One of my favorite Italian dishes is pasta with potatoes.) The recipe came together quickly and easily and the peppery, garlicky bread crumbs gave the dish a nice crunch. I may use just a clove less garlic next time, but overall it’s a great pasta to serve, especially with a hearty salad.

Testers Choice
Natalie Reebel

Dec 10, 2013

This dish is perfect to put together after a long day when you don’t want to go out and grab groceries. It was so simple yet so yummy. It was full of flavor and incredibly easy to prepare. The entire recipe really only takes as much time as it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta. I used the only long pasta I had in the house—angel hair. It cooked quickly and tasted wonderful. I needed to add a significant amount of olive oil to the finished product, as the oil absorbed quickly into the hot pasta.The red pepper flakes added just the right amount of warmth to the dish. The recipe doubles easily.

Testers Choice
Kristen Kennedy

Dec 10, 2013

I love how simple and uncomplicated this recipe is. We made it one very chilly evening. My family huddled around the pot of boiling water waiting for the pasta to be perfectly al dente. They were so surprised when it took mere minutes to throw the topping together. Definitely don't forget the Pecorino Romano—it raises this dish from very good to sensational.

Testers Choice
Allison J.

Dec 10, 2013

This is an easy recipe that satisfies. Making the bread crumb mixture was easy, and I also added other greens—thyme and scallions—to the mix. Toasting was easy, and the garlic tied the flavors together nicely. The fennel seeds are a nice touch, and the pepper flakes bring a kick. I mixed the bread crumb mixture with the cooked linguini, added a bit of oil, salt, pepper, and Parmesan, and was set! If I had to change anything, I'd add a squeeze of citrus to possibly add a bit of acid. I also think a poached or fried egg would be delicious atop the pasta.

Testers Choice
Susan Bingaman

Dec 10, 2013

This is exactly what I want to eat when I’m home alone and STARVING. This recipe makes a very hearty portion—go lighter on the breadcrumbs if you’re not climbing the walls with hunger. I tossed the pasta right from the pot into the breadcrumbs in the skillet and it was perfect. The pasta still had a bit of cooking water clinging to it; otherwise, I think this dish could get pretty dry pretty fast. Use a heavy hand when it comes to the garlic and spices, trust me.

Testers Choice
Ralph Knauth

Dec 10, 2013

A very simple dish that I've made very often. I always have the ingredients on hand, even homemade toasted bread crumbs. A new way to do them was adding the fennel seeds, and I loved it. This dish is quick, cheap, and yummo. Definitely a keeper.

Comments
Comments
  1. Katie says:

    Isn’t it funny how there’s often a problem with the order of operations in a recipe? In this one, the instructions for the crumb mixture should come first, otherwise, a newbie would just leave the pasta cooked and sitting in the water while the crumb mixture is prepared.

    • David Leite says:

      Hi Katie, I certainly see your point. But when our testers made the recipe, they were able to crisp up the small amount of bread crumbs in fewer than the 9 to 11 minutes needed to cook the pasta (plus the 15 minutes or so to bring the water to a boil). So all is good.

  2. Stu Borken says:

    Isn’t it remarkable that a peasant dish, created to use up old bread and left over pasta, becomes a delicious specialty item featured in a cooking blog often featuring more intricate and “high end” recipes. This recipe is absolutely wonderful!

    • David Leite says:

      Stu, agreed. Our philosophy is great food is great no matter who makes it, where it comes from, and how it came into being. You won’t find a single food snobs here.

  3. brenda smith says:

    When I was a young child my mother made lunches of beadcrumbs and noodles — no spices however, just a bit of sugar sprinkled on top. My brother was still making this in his 60s. Your version sounds wonderful.

    • David Leite says:

      brenda, your memories sound wonderful. And I can attest that this version of the recipe is marvelous!

  4. ashley says:

    I always have this stuff on hand! It’s so easy to whip up when the natives are getting restless, and I don’t feel like putting in a whole lot of effort :o) And it’s so much tastier than a box of mac and cheese!

    • David Leite David Leite says:

      Agreed, ashley. And I’ve added leftover sautéed shrimp, bits of cooked pancetta, shredded chicken–really anything in the icebox. It’s a great dish to help clear out the pantry.

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