This 20-Minute Cheesy Pasta Proves Pepperoni Isn't Just for Pizza

Starring: a crispy-crunchy topping you'll want to put on everything.

June 17, 2019
Photo by Julia Gartland

I’m here to tell you that you need to keep pepperoni in your fridge at all times. No, it has nothing to do with pizza—even though I love a good homemade pie loaded with pepperoni and cheese. It has everything to do with my new favorite way to eat pasta: covered in hearty, spicy, fiery-red pepperoni pangrattato.

Dubbed “poor-man’s Parmesan,” pangrattato involves day-old bread that’s grated, lightly toasted in olive oil, and sometimes flavored with garlic, herbs, anchovies, or chiles. In Southern Italy, the crispy crumbs are traditionally sprinkled over pasta in lieu of more expensive grated cheese.

I’m no stranger to bread crumbs—in fact, I’m pretty obsessed, putting them on everything from salads to gratins to spaghetti. Last year, I was on a salami crumbs kick. And then I've heard of people (like Food52er hardlikearmour, and the restaurant Clove & Hoof in Oakland, California) making a salami or pepperoni gremolata, a lemony, chopped herb condiment with flecks of spicy cured meat mixed in. With all of these ideas combined, I was ultimately led to pepperoni pangrattato.

To make my totally unorthodox version of the classic Italian topping, I start by toasting panko bread crumbs with chopped pepperoni. When the pepperoni hits the hot skillet, it renders its fat and turns the panko bright red. Both get ultra crispy. Off the heat, I add lemon zest and lots of parsley, their brightness a perfect counterpunch to the rich crumbs.

For the spaghetti, I sauté thinly slivered garlic in a pool of olive oil until barely golden, then add plenty of pasta water, some lemon juice, and Parmesan to form a smooth, starchy sauce. The whole dish comes together easily: Make the pangrattato while the water heats. Prepare the sauce while the spaghetti cooks. Top each bowl with the spicy crumbs. In under 20 minutes, you'll dig in to a creamy bed of spaghetti with a spicy, crispy surprise.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Wow. I, too, cannot wait to cover fresh tomatoes in this pepperoni pangrattato. Thanks, Emily! ”
— Emma L.

When I first tasted the creamy, lemony spaghetti with the crispy pepperoni crumbs, I was amazed by just how well the two get along . So was my son, who has probably eaten his weight in pepperoni pizza in the last year. He requested that I make this dish often—and I’ve gladly obliged. Even my daughter, who never wants pepperoni on her pizza, gobbles this up.

In my experiments with the dish, I’ve learned a few things:

  • Any kind of pepperoni works here—fresh or shelf-stable. And other types of cured meats can stand in for the pepperoni, too: pancetta, soppressata, or fennel salami. (But nothing beats the original, in my opinion.)
  • To get the creamiest sauce, boil your pasta in just enough water (a tip I got from Milk Street magazine)—4 quarts, maximum, for every pound . Less water results in a starchier cooking liquid, which helps the sauce cling to pasta.
  • Even though pasta and pepperoni pangrattato are a smashing duo, vegetables love these spicy bread crumbs, too. Think roasted or grilled broccoli, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, and artichokes. I’m counting the days until I can shower these crumbs all over thick, juicy slices of heirloom tomatoes.

But the most important tip? Like I said before: keep pepperoni on hand at all times. Because once you’ve experienced how crazy good these crumbs are (and how simple they are to make are to make), you’ll want to use them on everything.

What's your favorite way to use pepperoni? Let me know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Aimee
  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
  • EmilyC

Written by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.


Aimee June 17, 2019
I wish the recipe read 4cuos water, not 4 quarts. Now I’m worried about my sauce
EmilyC June 17, 2019
Oh gosh, that’s a typo in the article. It should read 4 quarts. The recipe is correct as you noted. I’ll get that fixed! I hope it turns out okay!!
Emma L. June 17, 2019
Wow. I, too, cannot wait to cover fresh tomatoes in this pepperoni pangrattato. Thanks, Emily!
EmilyC June 17, 2019
Yet another reason to anticipate tomato season! (Like we needed another one, right?!) : )