When it comes to fast dinners for one you can’t beat pasta. There’s no letting meat come to room temperature, no need to think ahead enough to marinade, you can keep it simple enough that there’s minimal chopping and sautéing—usually the longest part is waiting for the water to come to a boil, which is the opportune time to do whatever prep work you may have.
This one is perhaps one of the speediest. It’s humble in its ingredients but not quite so in flavor. Pungent, briny, lip-puckering capers get a quick trip in some very hot oil until their salty-sharpness is highlighted with a toasted bronze. Then there’s the breadcrumbs.
I know it probably sounds strange to put breadcrumbs on pasta, but trust me. They’re actually a substitution for Parmigiano—they give a similar texture, experience and, and by salting them, flavor as the cheese. I guess you could say it’s an old trick from Italy as part of cucina povera—peasant food. For those that couldn’t afford the luxury of Parmigiano, a sprinkling of toasted crumbs made from dirt-cheap day old bread just had to do. Frankly, I don’t think it’s a bad substitution—the crisp, salty grains against the al dente-soft pasta, and little crispy, but still fleshy, bursts of capers all just work so well together.
If you really want something different and oh-so-good, grow some nasturtium in the summer, harvest the tender jade seeds, and pickled them per The Splendid Table instructions for the perfectly radish flavored, but floral, variation of traditional capers. So good.
And I don’t want to hear anything about the amount of pasta in the recipe. Just think of it as second helpings built right in.
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|1 (or 2, more appropriately)||10 minutes|
- 6 ounces spaghetti
- 3 - 4 t-spoons olive oil (regular), divided (Botticelli recommended)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons capers coarsely chopped
- 1 clove garlic sliced
- Small pinch chili flakes
- 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs see note
- 2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley
- 1/4 t-spoon kosher salt plus A LOT more for pasta water
- Heat a large pot of water over high heat, covered, until boiling.
- Heat a large pan over medium-high heat until fairly hot. Pour in about half the regular olive oil and let it get rippling hot—literally seconds. Drop in the capers and fry quickly until they get, well, frazzled.
- Sprinkle in the breadcrumbs and a little salt and toss about, coating in the oil slightly. Don’t worry if it seems a little dry – that’s fine – some crumbs will plump and fry in the oil, others will toast dryly in the pan.
- Remove the capers and crumbs to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.
- Drop the pasta into the water once boiling and cook a minute or two shy of the package instructions for al dente (usually about 7 minutes or so).
- Once the pasta has 2 minutes left, put the remaining regular olive oil in the pan with the garlic and chili flakes. Heat over medium low heat, gently. Once the pasta’s time is up, reserve about 1 cup of pasta water (more than you’ll need). Drain the pasta and shake off access water.
- Raise the heat on the pan and drop in the pasta and toss about in the garlicy oil. Pour in enough of the reserved pasta water to slightly lubricate it – about ¼ cup. Toss it about frequently to coat in the starchy water, letting it soak up some of the liquid.
- Once the pan is mostly dry, stir in most of the parsley. Drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil and shut the heat off immediately. Top the pasta with the crumbs and capers and the rest of the parsley and take the whole pan with you to the table (or transfer the pasta to a wide bowl and then top with the crumbs if you're not an animal).
- I don't bother with those store-bought breadcrumbs that come in those canisters—they have absolutely nothing going for them. Whenever I have bread that's either going to go stale, or won't be eaten before it goes stale or bad, I dry it out in the oven, grind it up, and stash it in the freezer for later. If day-old bread at the grocery store is dirt cheap that's a good option, too. Get the "recipe" HERE.
- Check that your pasta and breadcrumbs (or bread, if you're making the crumbs) are vegan friendly—you can easily make this a great vegan meal! So long as the pasta doesn't contain eggs you're good (most product lines by Barilla are vegan friendly). Many store-bought breadcrumbs ARE NOT vegan friendly, but you can easily get some vegan bread, toast a few slices, and grind them up.