Pasta Pluperfect

If the pollsters and retail analysts are correct, you, the sacred American retail shopper, savior of the global market economy, started waiting in lines outside the big box stores on Thanksgiving afternoon. Dauntless, you shopped till you dropped sometime late on Sunday. Throughout the weekend’s frenzy of consumption, you survived on good Turkey Day leftovers. But now it’s Cyber-Monday, and by this evening, you may have maxed out your credit cards and finished whatever was refrigerated in Tupperware.

Garlic, Oil, and Hot red pepper flakes
The Condimento: Garlic, Olive Oil, and Hot Red Pepper Flakes
Copyright © 2012, Skip Lombardi

So what did Nonna serve when her cupboard was nearly bare? She and other immigrant families relied on a pasta dish that exemplifies la cucina dei poveri, the food of the poor.

Whether you’re feeling rich or poor, you’ll enjoy a zesty southern Italian preparation that is simplicity itself. Is Pasta con Aglio, Olio, e Peperoncino a balanced meal? No, but in your case, Thanksgiving excess took care of the calories and vitamins last week. You and your liver could use a break.

When Nonna’s larder lacked even a rind of cheese, this is what the immigrant family enjoyed. The key component is the bread crumb mixture, pane gratatto, which the ever-wry immigrants called “false cheese” or formaggio dei poveri. Sautéed with a little olive oil, the crumbs become a condimento that satisfies the palate’s craving for fat. It’s the perfect example of cholesterol-free fast food. Maybe Mayor Bloomberg could fast-track the licensing of a few food trucks to serve this around New York City?


1 pound spaghetti or linguine

2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon peperoncino, crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 to 3/4 cup dry, unseasoned bread crumbs
Coarsely ground black pepper & salt, to taste

A little extra virgin olive oil, to finish

Above are the basic ingredients. We like to add 3 – 4 tablespoons of chopped, flat-leaf Italian parsley and a tablespoon of freshly grated lemon rind (orange or tangerine also work well.) The citrus note is typically Sicilian.


Begin to cook the pasta in boiling, salted water.
As the pasta cooks, prepare your condimento:

In a sauté pan, heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and sauté the chopped garlic for one minute, or until is is fragrant. Add the peperoncino, a few grinds of black pepper, and bread crumbs to the pan and stir until the crumbs are lightly toasted, 3 to 4 minutes. If you are using the fresh parsley and/or citrus rind, add those now and stir to combine with the crumbs. Remove the pan from the heat.

As soon as the pasta is al dente, drain it well. Immediately, toss the hot pasta in a large bowl with one tablespoon of the extra virgin oil. With tongs, or two spoons, gently lift the pasta strands a few times so they are coated with the oil. Add all of the reserved crumb mixture and gently combine it with the hot pasta. Taste one strand and, if needed, add salt to taste.

Divide the pasta into 4 – 6 portions and, if you like, drizzle each with another spoonful of extra virgin oil.

Buon appetito!

Serves 4 – 6 as a light meal.

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