We're not sure that poor man's parmesan was ever intended to actually simulate cheese or convince your taste buds that it actually is cheese. This is a centuries-old technique used in poorer Italian communities where aged cheeses like parmigiano reggiano were too expensive a commodity for everyday use. But you have to sprinkle something over your pasta, right?!
All you need is a handful of breadcrumbs and a few glugs of olive oil. Swirl the oil in a pan until it's warm and then add the breadcrumbs with a good pinch of salt. Stir this around until the crumbs have absorbed all the olive oil and turned golden. For extra flavor, you can add garlic, fresh herbs, and ground pepper. For a more detailed description of the process, check out our own recipe for Poor Man's Parmesan.
In some ways, this is even better than parmesan. You get the same (ok, similar!) savory and salty flavors, but with the added bonus of crunchiness. This also has a more forward flavor than parmesan, the flavors hitting upfront rather than melting into the background.
Traditionally, you would sprinkle this over a plate of pasta just before serving. It also works well as a topping for casseroles, for salads, and even a last-minute coating for steak and other grilled meats.
Do you ever make this topping? How do you like it?
(Image: Faith Durand)