During the month of December, the food fest that is Christmas dinner becomes an obsession. It's all consuming to plan, shop for and cook a feast of the fishes -- be it seven, nine, or 13 dishes -- or whatever your particular tradition may be.
Glorious as the holidays are, January is a welcome respite. And simple spaghetti with toasted breadcrumbs is the perfect antidote.
This is the sort of dish you can pull together without so much as going to the market. The only ingredients you might not have in your pantry are Italian parsley and oregano.
If you happen to have leftover bread, make your own breadcrumbs. Toss day-old (or two-day-old) bread into a food processor and pulse for a few minutes to chop. Add the finely chopped crumbs to a dry saute pan over medium heat to toast. And there you have it.
I do very little to season this spaghetti: toss with garlic, salt, pepper and either oregano or marjoram. Fresh oregano offers an entirely different flavor than the pizza joint dried oregano Americans know well. Fresh oregano or marjoram brings a citrus or sweet pine flavor welcome during the cold winter months.
The key to spaghetti is to serve it immediately after removing the pasta from the pot. La pasta non aspetta a nessuno. Pasta waits for no one. It needs to go right in your mouth. And so it will.
Spaghetti with Toasted Breadcrumbs and Oregano
Excerpted from "Molto Batali" (ecco, 2011)
1/4 cup plus 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh oregano or marjoram leaves
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 1/2 pounds spaghetti
Hot red pepper flakes, for serving (optional)
Bring 8 quarts of water to a boil in a large pasta pot.
While the water is heating, combine 1/4 cup of the oil and the garlic in a 14-inch saute pan, and cook over medium-low heat until the garlic turns just light golden brown. Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to sit.
Pour the remaining 1/4 cup oil into a separate 12- to 14-inch saute pan set over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring constantly, until they are dark golden brown (3 to 5 minutes -- take your time). Remove from the heat and sprinkle generously with salt and freshly cracked pepper. Add the oregano and parsley, and mix thoroughly.
When the water comes to a boil, add 2 tablespoons salt. Drop the spaghetti into the boiling water and cook it for 1 minute less than thepackage instructions indicate. Just before the pasta is done, carefully ladle 1/2 cup of the cooking water into the pan containing the garlic and oil.
Drain the cooked spaghetti in a colander and add it to the pan containing the oil and garlic. Toss over medium heat for about 30 seconds, until nicely coated. Then add half of the toasted breadcrumb mixture to the spaghetti and toss until well mixed. Pour the spaghetti into a warmed bowl and serve immediately, with the remaining toasted breadcrumb mixture in a bowl on the side.
This dish gets no cheese! Season it only with more black pepper and some red pepper flakes.
(Mario Batali is the owner of Babbo, Lupa, Otto and other renowned restaurants. His latest book is "Molto Batali," published by Ecco.)Copyright © 2015, CT Now