It's easy to think of ingredients to add to pasta — the sky is truly the limit — but there's one specific element that's often overlooked, and that's texture. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense: pasta is soft, and all chefs know that one of the keys to a great dish is contrast. Adding something crunchy to pasta takes the dish to a whole new level of textures and flavors, and it's almost just as easy as drizzling olive oil on top. And if you're wondering if this is a legit, Italian-recommended tip, don't worry: it is.
I'm reminded of this technique by a particularly delicious pasta lunch I had at Masi Winery in Verona, Italy, pictured above. The ravioli dish calls for Giovanni Rana's artichoke ravioli, artichoke hearts, squash blossoms, buttery shrimp, parmesan cheese, fresh parsley, and the real star: golden-brown fried sunchoke chips on top (no, they're not potato chips!). A sunchoke, or a Jerusalem artichoke, resembles a ginger root when raw, but when thinly sliced and fried, it's a slightly sweet and nutty vegetable that's the ultimate companion for rich and cheesy pasta. Each bite of chewy, pillowy ravioli paired with a bite of the crisp sunchoke chip is a seriously perfect match.
If you're thinking to yourself, "There's no way I'm going to slice and fry a fancy vegetable just for pasta," never fear. One of the easiest and quickest ways to get the same textural effect is by sprinkling breadcrumbs on pasta. Whether you're making spaghetti and clams with brown butter and garlic breadcrumbs or Chrissy Teigen's cheesy breadcrumbs or a fast and easy pasta with pesto and breadcrumbs, the secret is in the skillet: toast your (preferably panko) breadcrumbs over low heat until they become slightly golden brown, and add them directly to your finished pasta for a little crunch in every bite. No matter how you choose to add texture, you'll wonder why you never did it before.
Travel and expenses for the author and photographer were provided by Giovanni Rana for the purpose of writing this story.