A true foodie would never let the vagaries of weather dictate the fate of his or her taste buds. What that means is that while we will happily adhere to a diet of buttermilk,salads,fresh seasonal fruit etc, for most of the week, the dormant glutton seeks attention during the weekend,despite the heat.
So,when talks of an impending sleepover at our place was underway,the first thing on my agenda was of course to make a menu.The challenge was to come up with the kind of food that was healthy,light on the stomach and most importantly one that rated high on the taste-o-metre !
It’s a nice feeling to offer a healthy home-cooked meal for children and to thereafter sit around a table and bond while enjoying the dinner together.The uninhibited laughter alone makes for wonderful memories, one that my siblings and I have enjoyed at countless homes during our growing up years.
Our menu for the evening was a chilled seasonal soup, a colourful salad and baked fish with a light crispy topping.This topping is so easy and takes just minutes to put together but it changes the look and feel of a dish to something far more than the ordinary. I came across this idea some years ago while watching a show on TV where this chef from a small restaurant in Italy added this crumbly topping to his pasta dish. It’s called ‘pangritata’ and is apparently known as the ‘poor man’s parmesan’.
While this simple topping came into existence as a substitute for those who could not afford to spend on parmesan cheese,it has gotten to be as popular as the cheese itself.
I know of very few people who will turn down a fruit crumble. When crisp toasty textures combine with soft ,sweet fruit…what’s not to love. Well, this savoury crumble is just as delicious and so much more versatile. It involves crumbling slightly stale bread and mixing it with finely chopped garlic, fresh or dried herbs and some citrus zest. Usually all of this is fried in a pan with a few tablespoons of olive oil until it became dark and crunchy and is set aside to strew on the dish of choice.
It does wonders to enhance the taste of simply prepared foods; a bowl of spaghetti , grilled tomatoes , baked potatoes or even to sprinkle over a tray of assorted roasted vegetables or meats.
When it comes to baking,what works best for me, is to mix in the olive oil directly into the breadcrumb mixture and layer it over the seafood or vegetable instead of frying it separately in a pan to add later.This way it coats everything evenly and looks extremely appetising. When adding to cooked dishes however,it’s better to fry it in the pan ahead and then sprinkle over.
The variations in doing a savoury crumble of this kind can be quite fun.A gluten free version using finely shredded coconut is an equally versatile option.Toast the coconut first in a dry pan to resemble browned breadcrumbs.
Along with the breadcrumbs we also like to add fine shavings of almond, walnuts, dried chilli flakes , grated nutmeg, flavoured salt etc.The pangritata can therefore also be a way to include extra nutrition to any dish of choice.
When engrossed in pinching bits off the slices of bread to rub between the fingertips ,one does tend to visualise the image of the final dish.It’s wonderful to see faces light up and go ‘wow’ when the dish is brought to the table. To have the ability to delight others is what makes cooking an absolute joy.To say that the pangritata has now firmly rooted itself in my list of culinary pleasures is an undeniable fact !