By Melissa Clark, The New York Times
Even before my husband started baking his own sourdough loaves, I was already the kind of cook who made crumbs out of stale bread heels.
But now that his once-in-a-while pursuit has become a weekly habit, we can eat our favorite pantry pasta with garlicky bread crumbs whenever we want. And we never tire of the way the crunchy, garlic- and anchovy-infused crumbs contrast with the springy, buttery pasta.
To make enough for four to six servings, start with 1 cup of crumbs. (I make mine by pushing the dried bread bits through the grating disk of the food processor, then blitzing with the metal blade for a few pulses.)
Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high, adding just enough oil to coat the bottom in an even slick. Add 4 to 6 chopped anchovy fillets, and stir them until they dissolve, about 1 minute. Wear an apron, because they will splatter all over you. Add 4 to 6 minced or grated garlic cloves, and stir until you can smell them, about 30 seconds longer.
Now add your bread crumbs, either homemade or store-bought. (Panko is a good choice here.) If you like, you can also add a big pinch or two of red-pepper flakes and some grated lemon zest. Lower the heat to medium so the crumbs don’t burn, and toss them around in the pan until they turn one or two shades darker, about 5 minutes more. Scrape them onto a plate, and, after they are cool enough not to burn your tongue, taste and season generously with salt and pepper.
You can fry them as the pasta water is coming to a boil but also earlier in the day or even a week ahead. Keep a jar of them in the fridge, then heat them up in a skillet until you smell the garlic.
Cook a pound of pasta, any shape, in salted water until al dente (usually a minute or two less than the package says). I love to use short, curly noodles, so the nooks catch the crumbs. But long strands like bucatini work, too.
Before draining, dip a mug into the pasta water and save some. Drain the pasta and put it back in the pot. Add a lump of butter, a splash of pasta water, about half a cup of chopped herbs (parsley, chives, dill, mint, basil, or a combination of whatever you’ve got) and the crumbs, tossing well. If the pasta seems unpleasantly dry, splash in some more pasta water or butter or both. Sometimes I’ll also add sautéed onions, mushrooms, peppers or fresh chopped tomato to the pot. But they’re not at all necessary.
Top each serving with a good squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of your best olive oil, a sprinkle of flaky sea salt, and a lot of freshly ground black pepper. And be grateful that stale bread can yield such riches as this.