We kicked off this month’s Real Recipe Wednesday series with a classic Pasta Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino dish that had many people, including yours truly, heading into the kitchen. This week, guest blogger, Lisa Fantino of Wanderlust Women’s Travel is taking us to Sicily for an authentic tale and recipe for Italian breadcrumbs.

It’s often strange to see how customs evolve, morph or change when traveling from Italy to the United States. Growing up in a mostly Sicilian household, with a touch of Calabrese tossed in for good measure, many of our superstitions, customs and delicacies were right off the boat. However, where we differ from the natives is the history behind them. As you can tell, it’s a bit like playing the childhood game of telephone to see how far off the mark a recipe, tradition, or holiday custom will deviate, as I explained here for my family’s version of the voostedda.

So, when I asked Nana about mollica (or modica, pronounced moo-deeg-yuh in Sicilian dialect), of course I got her creative story – Italians didn’t have a lot of money and when they couldn’t afford to buy grated cheese, they fried up bread crumbs to sprinkle on their pasta. That was Nana’s version. When I researched a bit more, I discovered another story – that being that Italians don’t sprinkle cheese on pasta dishes with fish in them (i.e. pasta finocchi sarde, or con le alici or con i calamari) so they created mollica as an alternative.

By now you must be saying “yuck” or “yum,” depending on your palate but Sicilians take their mollica seriously. Papa even had his own stash, which was mixed with crushed red pepper and the malocchio was bestowed upon anyone who left that jar empty.

Now, you can live large and use both grated cheese and mollica and forget that cholesterol may be an issue. The salty taste of the cheese and the crunchy taste of the mollica are true perfection for lopping up the extra sauce/gravy on your plate. And that whole “sauce v. gravy” argument is worthy of an article in itself (BTW – I have never, ever heard any Italian-American call it ragu!)

Mollica Recipe

(amounts vary depending on how much leftover bread you have, but here is an idea)

>> Leftover bread
>> Dash of Salt
>> 2 tablespoons, Parsley flakes
>> 1 teaspoon, Garlic powder
>> 1 teaspoon, Oregano


1. Bake the bread in the oven at 250° F for about 15 minutes, or until dried and crisp.
2. Crush it either in a food processor or blender and add seasoning.
3. Store in an airtight container.

Buon Appetito!

Thanks, Lisa. I love the idea of adding crushed red pepper flakes, a la Lisa’s nonno. Have you ever made mollica and if so, what do you add to your recipe?

Lisa Fantino is an award-winning journalist, attorney and travel consultant behind Wanderlust Women Travel.

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Photos: Lisa Fantino and Fiordilatte via Flickr

6 Responses
  1. I think it is a great idea 🙂 Thanks for sharing ..Personally I do not like cheese on all my pasta dishes, but hubby does.

    Cool, maybe you could try something like this and see if you like it better!

  2. OK – just for the record – Nonna and Nonno would both be screaming at me right now because it was Cherrye’s idea to call it mollica. Don’t mess with Sicilians. LOL

    Don’t blame me girl, it is the Italian language! I didn’t make it up! lol

    1. kathryn musso lacey

      @Lisa at Wanderlust Women,
      As my daughter Lisa would tell you: Mom says (and experts agree) that Sicilian is a language unto itself and as such as many regional dialects. Now for the “modeeka” as my mother born in Agira (P Enna) would say it, the bread crumbs from good Italian bread, are to be browned in good olive oil in a frying pan. Add to the crumbs plenty of finely minced garlic (or garlic granules), pepper, a bit of pepperoncini (to taste) and a good handful of minced fresh herbs or a dried mix such as Victoria Ta
      Taylor’s Sicilian herb mix (of course mama dried her own mix from herbs in our garden). Stir the crumbs constantly in the oliveoil until they are browned. Taste the mix and adjust to your own taste (to me that usually means more garlic).
      While this mix is essential to Pasta con le Sarde, it is great on any pasta dish or sprinkled over Italian style casseroles, or used to coat chicken. As my daughter is a vegan, she used this as a cheese substitute.
      I make a quart at a time and store in in a glass jar. Don’t let it hang around too long for it will mold.

  3. My mouth is watering! I leave for Sicily next week…I’m starving for some of that pasta…with moo-deeg-yuh, per favore!

    Have a fabulous trip, Susan. Maybe you can squeeze in Calabria next go around!

  4. Fun to read about this, Lisa! Interesting to learn about food traditions in Sicily and compare them to here in Campania. I haven’t really encountered bread crumbs sprinkled on pasta dishes. Baked ones, yes, but not on fish dishes. Sounds good! Oh, and cholesterol doesn’t exisit in Campania near as I can tell. Ha! 🙂

    What do ya know, Laura-it doesn’t exist in Calabria, either!

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