Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Pimp my cooking no. 3 - Pangrattato

"Pangrattato is the Italian word for breadcrumbs, which doesn't sound like a particularly promising subject for a blog post, but as Gershwin wrote, "it ain't necessarily so"

Pimp My Cooking. Gosh, remember that? The three of you who are long time readers of Gastrolad might remember this short lived series I introduced here last year. It was intended to be a succession of posts where I would introduce simple cooking techniques that were both easy to employ and a sure fire way to impress friends and family (which, as we all know, is the main reason we cook in the first place).

For a variety of reasons it fell by the way side. However, I have decided to reintroduce Pimp my Cooking to the blog, as beneath the dodgy name is actually lurking a good idea because there are plenty of ways you can jazz up your culinary repertoire without a huge amount of effort.

Pangrattato is the Italian word for breadcrumbs, which doesn't sound like a particularly promising subject for a blog post, but as Gershwin wrote, "it ain't necessarily so". When I say breadcrumbs, don't think I mean those horrible dayglow orange bits of nuclear waste your Mum would use to make Scotch Eggs.

A proper pangrattato is a traditional Southern Italian way of jazzing up a dish of plain old pasta or rice with a topping of crisped crumbs from a stale loaf of bread. The original pimp my cooking for recessionary times!

Even like this at its simplest, a pangrattato will add a couple of things to your plate of food. It will add texture, with the crunch of the fried crumbs against the velvety smoothness of a risotto; and it will also add flavour, especially if you make a couple of choice additions to the breadcrumbs.

You don't have to stop at the crumbs though, and can take the principle of something crispy that will pack a bit of a punch and extend it to parts unknown. For example, the inspiration for this post was a butternut squash risotto I made a couple of weeks ago. Instead of topping it with some fried breadcrumbs, I crushed amaretti biscuits with fried sage and crispy bacon and sprinkled this ambrosial mix over the dish. It was, in the immortal words of Peter Kay, a taste sensation.

So instead of giving you a recipe, because there isn't really one so to speak, I'm just going to provide a few ideas to start you off. And from there, the world is your Oysters Rockefeller (oysters topped with a spinach sauce and breadcrumbs!).

  • The simplest pangrattato would be just some fried or oven-crisped breadcrumbs sprinkled on top of a plate of plain tagliatelle tossed in butter or oil - frugal perhaps, but I find the occasional frugal dinner has a virtue all of its own. To this you could add green herbs, garlic, anchovy, chilli, chopped nuts, or indeed anything you fancy.
  • If you've made a wintry butternut squash soup or risotto, use my suggestion above and top with some crushed amaretti, sage and crisped bacon. 
  • With a summer soup like the salmorejo I had in Seville a couple of months ago, you could fry a few ends of air dried ham with croutons of bread and stick those on top (evidently there's nothing a bit of crispy pig won't improve). 
  • For a classic vichyssoise, a smooth soup made with potato and leek, you could try topping with chopped hazelnuts that you've dry roasted in a hot pan.
  • Try chunks of bread whizzed up with a couple of anchovy fillets and a chilli, fried in foaming butter and chucked on top of a plate of steamed purple sprouting broccoli - makes me hungry just writing about it!
  • Experiment with seeds too. Fry up a mix of seeds in some oil with a few spices - maybe cumin, coriander or smoked paprika- and use them to top roasted vegetables. Roasted root vegetables like sweet potato and parsnip work well here.

The key is that you want the ingredients to chime together and not clash - keep that in mind and you can't really go wrong.

So there you have it, with some tasty breadcrumbs up your sleeve and a fancy Italian name to go with it, your risottos, pasta dishes, roasted vegetables and anything else you can think of will be lifted from a soggy C plus to a crispy A minus. Forza pangrattato!

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