The One Topping Your Pasta Is Missing

Breadcrumbs are the crunchy contrast your noodles need.

By: Frances Kim
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Shrimp Scampi with Angel Hair Pasta and Lemon Breadcrumbs, as seen on Food Network Kitchen Live.

Photo by: Jason DeCrow

Jason DeCrow

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The story is always the same. You boil a pot of pasta, sauce the noodles, and grate Parmesan cheese over the top. (Or if, like me, you have a soft spot for that green canister, you make it rain powdered Parm!) But there’s another pasta topping that’s too often overlooked: breadcrumbs. Whether your cheese supply is running low during quarantine or you’re simply seeking a fresh finishing touch for your bowl of noodles, look no further than this humble ingredient. Amped up with the right flavors, breadcrumbs can be downright luxurious. You can use the store-bought seasoned kind or larger-flaked Japanese panko, or even make your own with the heels of all those loaves you’ve been baking for Instagram. Here are two inspired pasta dishes where breadcrumbs steal the show.

Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern has sampled the most unique dishes all over the globe, so he knows what he’s talking about when he says, “The best foods in the world are all made up of contrasts.” The simplest example? “Think of an ice cream cone,” Andrew instructs. “Crispy-crunchy with soft-creamy.” Homemade breadcrumbs are what take his shrimp scampi to the next level. Andrew blitzes day-old bread in the food processor along with lemon zest, garlic, parsley, and for just a touch of heat, cayenne pepper, then gives the crumbs a quick turn in the oven. Turbo-charged with flavor, they’re so much more than a garnish.

Whipped Ricotta Spaghetti w/ Garlic Parmesan Breadcrumbs beauty, as seen on Food Network Kitchen Live.

Photo by: Rob Pryce

Rob Pryce

Food writer and stylist Grant Melton, meanwhile, is partial to panko. Traditionally used in Japanese cuisine for fried foods such as tonkatsu and tempura, the breadcrumbs also make an excellent starting point for a pasta topping. Grant slicks the flakes with olive oil and toasts them in a skillet along with garlic, Parmesan, lemon zest and parsley until fragrant and golden. They’re the ideal counterpoint for this creamy, alfredo-like pasta you can make any night of the week. “The breadcrumbs in this pasta dish are what makes it,” says Grant. He also highly recommends serving more breadcrumbs on the side so you can add more to your plate as you eat.

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