Parmesan Spaghetti with Pistachio and Parsley Pangrattato

We’re talking about a back-pocket, weeknight-win of a meal here, so in keeping with that spirit, let’s get straight to it, shall we?

Essentially a mash-up of two laid-back Italian classics: a delicate and creamy cacio e pepe (simple cheese and pepper pasta), with a crunchy pangrattato (rustic topping of toasted and seasoned breadcrumbs). Comforting yet surprisingly light, this dish is the perfect recipe for a quick and satisfying meal any night of the week.

The beauty of this pasta is that the ingredients are mostly pantry staples with a couple of fresh ingredients that are helpful to have on hand anyway. Let’s just say garlic, lemon, and fresh parsley go along way in my kitchen every week. As for the cheese? We get the massive wedge of Parmesan from Costco, so yeah… we always have cheese 🙂

Cacio e pepe on its own is already a small miracle. Sort of a grown-up mac and cheese, you need only dried pasta, freshly ground black pepper, parmesan cheese (or pecorino romano), and a good amount of the starchy pasta cooking water to bring it all together. The result is impressive in its simplicity, equally suitable for a solo meal on the sofa watching frivolous reality shows, or gathered around the dinner table, with the smallest members happily slurping up the saucy noodles.

But I didn’t stop there. Toasting up a skillet full of breadcrumbs to scatter over a lightly cheesed bowl of pasta has been in my bag of tricks for years – long before I knew it had a name (pangrattato literally means “grated bread” in Italian). Most often just some bread crumbs, olive oil, salt and pepper; occasionally garlic and fresh herbs, the crispy mix is also a fabulous stand-in for croutons. I mean, why toss a few cubes of stale bread on your kale Caesar when you can distribute that crunchy, fried bread goodness through every forkful?

I don’t usually add nuts to the crumbs, but I found some pistachios while rummaging through the pantry looking for the pasta, so I used them here. A great call, I might add. I love their subtle grassy flavour, but if you don’t have them, walnuts would also be fantastic, as would hazelnuts or pine nuts.

Finally, fresh lemon zest and parsley add a little levity to the fried crumbs and cheesy pasta.

If you watched me whip this up in my Instagram stories that day I had a hankering for a quick pasta lunch, you might remember I used a bit of anchovy paste as well. Decidedly not needed, so it didn’t make the final testing round. If you love the idea, by all means, add a teaspoon or two to the olive oil and black pepper before the cooked pasta goes back into the pot.

So here we are, but before we get to the recipe I do want to quickly point out that this recipe generously feeds four. While any leftovers are tasty, they’re not nearly as spectacular as the immediately served dish. I would recommend reducing the pasta amounts to suit your needs, but feel free to make the entire quantity of the pangrattato. It keeps well for a couple of days and you might just want to eat it by the spoonful anyway.

Parmesan Spaghetti with Pistachio and Lemon Pangrattato

An irresistable mash-up of two Italian classics: a delicate and creamy cacio e pepe (simple cheese and pepper pasta), with a crunchy pangrattato (rustic topping of toasted and seasoned breadcrumbs). Comforting yet light, this pasta the perfect "back-pocket" recipe for any night of the week.

For the Spaghetti

  • 1 lb spaghetti
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper ((plus more for the breadcrumbs))
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice ((from ½ lemon))
  • 1½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese ((plus more for serving))

For the Pangrattato

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • ⅓ cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes ((or to taste))
  • ⅓ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • zest from 1 lemon

Cook Pasta

  1. Lay the spaghetti in the bottom a large, high-sided skillet and cover with water. Place skillet over high heat and add a generous amount of salt. Using tongs or a fork, move the pasta around so it doesn't stick together. Once the water is boiling, keep checking the pasta every minute or so and turn off the heat when the pasta is still slightly under-cooked – it should have some bite left to it. Reserve 2 cups of the pasta water before draining completely.

Prepare Pangrattato

  1. While the pasta is cooking, heat a second skillet over medium-low heat and add the olive oil and pistachios. Stir for 2-3 minutes until the nuts are slightly toasted, then add the breadcrumbs. Stir well to coat the crumbs with the oil, then keep stirring/tossing frequently to ensure the breadcrumbs toast evenly. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes, then season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir for another 1-2 minutes or until the garlic is fragrant but not yet golden. Transfer for a bowl then add the parsley and lemon zest. Toss to combine and set aside.

Finish Pasta

  1. Set the same skillet from the pasta over medium heat and warm the olive oil. Once shimmering, add the 2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper. Stir for 30 seconds then add the drained pasta to the skillet with about 1 cup of the reserved pasta water and the lemon juice. Toss the spaghetti and once the pasta water is hot and reduced by about half, add the parmesan cheese then turn off the heat. The residual warmth in the skillet will be enough to melt the cheese. Keep tossing and adding small amounts of pasta water until the pasta is thoroughly coated with a light, glossy sauce. Season with salt to taste.

  2. Serve immediately in large bowls (preferably warmed) and top with a generous amount of the pangrattato.


The secret to a luscious, glossy sauce with only cheese and pasta water is utilizing the starch released from the pasta into the cooking water. Since less water is needed to cook the pasta in a large high-sided skillet as opposed to a pot, the starch level becomes more concentrated. You’ll also save quite a few minutes by cooking the pasta this way instead of waiting for the water to boil first. Trust me, it works. 

If you have the forethought and desire to be able to really savour this pasta, place your oven-safe serving bowls into a preheated oven at 190ºF for about 10-15 minutes. If your dishes aren’t oven-safe, place them in a large bowl of hot water for several minutes then dry well before serving. The warmed bowls will help keep your pasta at a delicious temperature, preserving the luscious state of the sauce, hopefully until your last forkful.

Some recommended additions or variations:

  • serve with a handful of fresh arugula
  • top with a crispy-edged fried egg
  • try hazelnuts, walnuts or pine nuts 
  • grana padano, pecorino romano, or asiago cheese would be delish!


Thanks for reading and if you make this recipe, let me know! Drop a comment below and share your creation on Instagram. Don’t forget to tag #myfamilyfoodlife!



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