Much is made lately of the "cucina povera," or peasant cooking. It's become rather trendy and even rather costly in restaurants for the typical "poor man's" dishes that sustained the tenant farmers and working classes through the centuries. It's a quest for authenticity and simplicity that has brought it into vogue.
In Italy, most of these dishes never died off. They were passed down from la nonna for years. While certain recipes have gone national, it is the regional cooking that offers the most variety and flavor, changing from one region to the next.
In Basilicata, a quintessential element is the mollica di pane, which is often used instead of cheese to top pasta dishes. It reflects the past poverty of the region; cheese was eaten fresh as the primary protein source, rather than being saved and aged. They couldn't afford to reserve and "waste" their cheese for sprinkling on pasta, so they came up with this rather ingenious (and tasty!) condiment made from breadcrumbs. The local wood oven-baked hearty bread made from semola flour is perfect for this.
Mollica di Pane
2/3 cup coarse bread crumbs (preferable homemade)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 handful of parsley, minced
1 leaf sage, minced
2 peperoni crushi, crumbled (or a sprinkle of chile flakes, if you want it a little piccante)
In a saute pan, heat a little olive oil. Add the garlic and saute lightly until softened, then add the other herbs and the breadcrumbs. Saute, stirring, until lightly golden brown. Add in the crumbled peperoni if you have some. Set aside until cool. Prepare cavatelli, orecchiette or pasta of your choice in whatever method you prefer, then sprinkle the mollica di pane over top and serve.