March 19, 2011

Italian Father's Day- Pasta con la Mollica

Almost everyday in Italy there is something to celebrate and celebrations mean food. Being a Catholic country, there is a Saint for everyday. March 19th is St. Joseph's day, Joseph being the father of Jesus, it is Father's Day in Italy.

What better way to celebrate than with food? Here in Tuscany we eat fried rice fritters, Frittelle di Riso, one of my own personal favorites, which I have written about before. When I was in Sicily last year I also learned how to make Sfinge, a fried bigne dough and others make Zeppole. All depends where you are from.

Italy is celebrating 150 years of being united as a country, but if you travel here you will still see that recipes don't travel. One of my favorite hobbies is to collect regional variations of these recipes.

This year I wanted to showcase a savory recipe with a great story.

A simple recipe starting with the trinity of aglio, olio e peperoncino ( garlic, olive oil and chili pepper) which is a classic. Then anchovies are added ( or in some areas of Sicily, sarde-sardines).

The breadcrumbs are said to represent the wood shavings in Joseph's  workshop. A few year's ago, I went to Salemi to get information on their famous St. Joseph shrines. Women create thousands of tiny figures with a flour and water dough, to decorate the shrines to St Joseph. People tour the various shrines and then are given this pasta to eat. Check out some of the images online of the alters, it is amazing the amount of work involved.

There are as many variations as there are cooks of this recipe. I used regular breadcrumbs from the store, but Sicilian bread makes great fresh breadcrumbs. They "toast" them in a garlic infused olive oil with chili peppers and anchovies.

the base mixture for the seasoned breadcrumbs

Here is my version:

Pasta con la Mollica

Chili pepper
Anchovies- I use salt packed anchovies and soak them then take them off the bones, I find them more flavorful.

Spaghetti or Bucatini

One of the secrets of italian cooking it to NOT heat the olive oil before adding the garlic.
Place sliced garlic, the boned, salted anchovies and chili peppers in the olive oil.
Turn on the heat and let cook, stirring to "melt" the anchovies.

Add bread crumbs and cook until the breadcrumbs are toasted.

In various versions:

Some people make another garlic, olive oil and anchovy pan and saute the drained cooked spaghetti in the infused oil then toss with the toasted breadcrumbs.

Some people make a simple tomato sauce with a simple sauce made with tomato paste and onions and water. ( I brought some home tomato paste from the market in sicily Sicily- it is incredible and unlike any commercial product!)  They cook the pasta first in tomato sauce then add the bread crumbs as garnish

Some people make the Pasta con le Sarde- where sardines are used instead of anchovies and the base is a white onion, saffron and wild fennel fronds cooked with the pasta.

I hope you can create your own version and enjoy!


  1. I've not had this dish since childhood. It brought back lots of memories. It's a paesant dish, a way to dress up pasta and give it some flavor. Many times, we ate this kind of food five, six times a week.

  2. This is one of my favourite pasta dish! But I don't use regular breadcrumbs from the store (they always have something else in...): I prepare them on my own, putting some old bread (preferably home made) into the kitchen mixer. Simply gorgeous...


  3. Great pasta dish. We will sometimes toast our breadcrumbs with some sugar and add to our pasta.

  4. I made this today, and it is delicious.