spaghetti pangrattato with roasted tomatoes


I have a secret to share from my kitchen to yours. Are you ready? It's a big one. Lean in a little closer (yes, to your computer or smartphone screen, just do it):

A really, really good dinner can seem complicated without actually being complicated.

Yes, yes, thank you, I know. The revelation startled me the first time, too. But the first time or two that I made a dish that took thirty minutes or less and people liked it enough to tell me so (twice) and even mention it again the following day, I thought to myself, there's got to be something to this whole easy-but-delightful thing we've got going on here.

Also, to pull this off successfully, it does matter what kind of staples you keep on hand, to be sure. If your freezer, like mine, is stocked with stashed pestos and sauces or you prep a canister of herbed bread crumbs the second a loaf has gone stale, then you're doing most of the hard work up front. The main lesson here is, invest in a food processor. Seriously. And taking a little time out during the weekend to do some meal prep for the week ahead? Invaluable. It will make those hectic weeknights fly by like a dream. It will cancel out the frantic "What the hell are we going to have for dinner?!" moments. It will make things like spaghetti pangrattato (Italian for "grated bread") happen as fast as it takes to boil water and chop some capers.

For this recipe, you will need:

For the bread crumbs:

1/2 cup coarse bread crumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
Fresh lemon zest (about 1/2 a lemon)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt & pepper

For everything else:

8 ounces dried spaghetti (any other shape will do, but for this dish, long pasta is just more fun)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoon capers, drained, rinsed and chopped
1/2 cup (not tightly packed) flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1-1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
Salt & pepper

If you don't have breadcrumbs on standby, here's a quick tutorial on getting fresh bread to go stale. It's really not rocket science: you leave bread out, it gets hard, you pulse or smash it up. It just depends on how far ahead you've been thinking about this. I'm pretty much always thinking about bread or bread crumbs or pasta, so we're all set there. But if you can give yourself at least a day's notice, making your own breadcrumbs is easy. I took some stale-ish ciabatta, put it under the broiler for a minute or two or until lightly browned and then let it sit out all day. Once it feels crispy or like the texture of a cracker (waiting several hours is best for this), pulse in the food processor until broken down into crumbs. You can set them aside for later or store in glass jar in the fridge for later use (storing in plastic will just reintroduce some of the moisture you just got rid of).

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Lay out your halved tomatoes in a single layer. Toss in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper and then lay face down on the tray. Transfer to the oven for about 20 minutes or until the skins start to wrinkle.

Meanwhile, get a large pot of salted water boiling on high heat. As you wait for the water to boil, heat your olive oil (for the breadcrumbs) in a small pan over medium heat. Add your garlic and cook for about 1 minutes or until it starts to brown. Add your breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, oregano and lemon zest and reduce the heat to low. Move around quickly to avoid burning and as soon as the crumbs start to brown, immediately remove from the pan. This process will happen super quickly depending on how fine a bread crumb you use, so leaving the crumbs on the coarser side will help avoid char.

Cook your pasta according to the package instructions. Once al dente, save about 1/4 cup of your pasta water and drain the rest. Toss your cooked pasta with your last tablespoon of olive oil, capers and parsley (and reserved pasta water, if the noodles are sticking together at all). Serve in deep bowls and top with crumbs, tomatoes and extra salt and pepper, if desired.

At this point, you can also add a little Parmesan cheese if you're like me and can't imagine eating pasta any other way.

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