Bucatini with toasted bread crumbs
Lidia Bastianich, "Lidia's Italy"

Serves 6

This is one of those elemental yet marvelous pastas made from almost nothing but a cook's inventiveness. If you lived in Puglia and all you had in the pantry was oil, garlic, a handful of pasta, a hunk of bread, and a sheaf of dried oregano, this is what you would make for your family. And they would be happy. Don't wait for an empty refrigerator to make this. Just have some good, country bread-a couple of days old is best — and some bucatini. The contrasting textures of those thick hollow strands, perfect for slurping, and the hand-torn crumbs of bread, crisp and crackling, is just great. (And if you happen to have some Canestrato Pugliese, grate some on top. It will take you straight to Puglia.)


• A chunk of country-style bread (about a 6-inch piece), day-old preferred
• About 1-1/2 tablespoons coarse sea salt or kosher salt
• 1 pound bucatini (also called perciatelli) 1/2 cup or more extra-virgin olive oil
• 3 tablespoons sliced garlic (4 or more plump cloves)
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano
• 3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
• 1/2 cup freshly grated Canestrato Pugliese (optional)

Recommended equipment:

• A large pot, 8-quart capacity, to cook the pasta
• A heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan, 12-inches or larger

Cut off the crust of the bread chunk and with your fingers tear the interior of the bread into irregular shreds, 1/4-inch or a bit larger — big enough to crunch nicely when toasted. For a pound of pasta, shred two full cups of the rough crumbs.

Heat at least six quarts of water, with a tablespoon salt, to a rolling boil in the big pot and add the bucatini. Bring it back to the boil and cook, partially covered, until al dente.

As soon as the pasta is in the pot, pour 1/2 cup of olive oil into the big skillet, set over medium-high heat and scatter in the garlic slices. Cook for a couple of minutes until the garlic is sizzling and fragrant but still pale. Drop in the torn bread crumbs and stir and tumble them over to coat with oil. Keep tossing as they start to toast and color, sprinkle over the oregano, and continue stirring and tossing. Lower the heat to avoid burning and, as soon as the crumbs and garlic slices are deep gold and crisp, turn off the heat.

Meanwhile, keep checking the pasta for doneness. As soon as it is cooked al dente, lift out the bucatini with tongs and a spider, let the water drain off for just a second or two, then drop it into the skillet.

Turn the heat up a bit and immediately toss the pasta with the bread crumbs and garlic. Sprinkle on a 1/2 teaspoon salt and keep tossing. If the crumbs absorbed all the oil and the pasta seems dry, drizzle over two or more tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and toss well. Taste and season with more salt if needed. Finally, sprinkle on the parsley (and grated Canestrato Pugliese if you have it), toss and serve right away.

A note about dried oregano: 
Dried oregano is more pronounced in taste than fresh and it is an essential ingredient in these dishes from Puglia and in many of my recipes from Sicily. I recommend buying dried oregano on the branch, if you can find it, rather than crushed leaves in jars. In my market, bouquets of dried oregano stalks, usually from Sicily, are packed in cellophane. To use in recipes, pull out one branch and, over a piece of parchment or wax paper, rub it lightly between you palms. Gather up the fallen leaves and measure. Keep rubbing until you have the amount called for.