French in a Flash: Spaghetti with Pistachio Pistou

RECIPE: Spaghetti with Pistachio Pistou
Spaghetti with Pistachio Pistou

Spaghetti with Pistachio Pistou

This recipe is the brain child resulting from the marriage of a meal I had at Da Silvano (a seriously yummy meal I had about three years ago that I’m STILL salivating over) and the sheer volume of pistachio items that I consumed this summer in the south of France.  (I can’t get into it now for risk of publicly offending peanut, cashew, and walnut, but a LOT of pistachios were consumed).  Pistachios all over the world are trembling in fear at the thought of it.  It’s super simple: spaghetti, tossed with pistachio butter fresh from the Whole Foods grinder, some olive oil and butter, Parmesan, and maybe some garlic.  It makes the perfect, gorgeous green side dish.  The green for the holidays is naturally festive, and I love, as I write in this week’s column, serving pasta as a side.  So often I just sit down to a big bowl of spaghetti, that I’ve forgotten how well it works as a creative side.  I served this with roasted pork loin with honey, and it was so much more expressive than plain ol’ roast potatoes or rice.  Bon app!


Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats.

Try saying pistachio pistou three times fast.  This recipe is actually a little bit sly.  You see, what separates a French pistou from an Italian pesto is that a pesto has nuts, usually pine nuts, while a pistou has only basil, garlic, olive oil, and sometimes a good hunk of Parmesan.  But in this pistou, the nuts don’t act as the binder, as they would in a pesto.  Instead, they replace the basil altogether as the prime flavor and ingredient.  The result is a sauce that creamy, rich, nutty, and vibrantly green.  Hence, a pistachio pistou.

I love this recipe for how unusual it is, and how decadent.  And, now that I think about it, how uncommonly easy it is as well.  It is a simple no-cook sauce made by whisking together garlic, olive oil, butter, pasta water, and the secret ingredient, pistachio butter, which has a phenomenal mixture of textures, from creamy and buttery to finely granular, so you get a pistachio cling to each strand of spaghetti, but also little crunchy shards of nut throughout.  The result is a pasta dish that is green, and rich, and perfect for the holidays.  The garlic makes it a pistou, but it is a strong flavor, and can be omitted for just a rich, buttery nut sauce.  I like it equally both ways.  I served it with roast pork loin, and I just think it makes the most beautiful holiday lunch.

I love the idea of serving pasta as the side dish, instead of mashed potatoes, or rice, or some other starch.  A really special nest of pasta next to some roast meat or charred fish can have a much more interesting profile than the same old olive oil roast potatoes–and I think in our love of big pasta plates we forget how well it works not as the center of attention.  This dish works perfectly as that kind of side.  Try it either way!

Spaghetti with Pistachio Pistou
serves 4

Spaghetti with Pistachio PistouINGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup pistachio butter
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, grated (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons finely sliced basil, plus extra for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter
  • Good Parmesan cheese for serving

PROCEDURE

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the pistachio butter, garlic (if using), salt, pepper, basil, olive oil, and butter, until smooth and completely incorporated.

When the pasta is al dente, reserve 2 cups of the cooking liquid, and drain the pasta.  Add 1 cup of the reserved pasta water and the pistachio mixture to the empty pasta pot, on low heat.  Whisk the pasta cooking water into the pistachio mixture, and when smooth, toss the pasta gently with the sauce with a pair of tongs.  Add additional pasta water if the sauce is too tight.  Pour the pasta into a large serving bowl, and use a vegetable peeler to scrape strips of Parmesan cheese over the top.  Garnish with some whole basil leaves, and serve right away, especially next to roast pork.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Easy, Eat, French in a Flash, Main Courses, Recipes, Series, Sides, Starches, Vegetarian, Vegetarian
 

The Joys of Canned Cassoulet

Cassoulet in a Can

Cassoulet in a Can, with Pork Confit and Duck Fat, from Castelnaudary. 4 Euros, 2 big servings.

Mr. English took me to Paris for my birthday, which, definitely, took the edge off of turning twenty-nine.  Next year, at this time, I’ll be thirty.  Pretty reductive concept from the outside I’m sure, but to me, it is nothing short of astonishing.  We did our usual circuit of St. Germain gems: Le Comptoir, Le Bistrot de l’Alycastre, Les Deux Magots.  I had gorgeous Breton razor clams broiled with herb butter and pain au levain for my birthday lunch at Le Comptoir, followed by their gorgeous “Salade Niçoise à ma façon,” which has the most delicious tuna, whole white anchovies, caper berries, potatoes, oil-cured black olives, deliciously limp haricots verts…it’s the best Niçoise in the world.  For dinner, at Bistrot de l’Alycastre, Mr. English and I both had Moroccan spiced rare-seared tuna and vegetables, and then I had calamari charred with cêpes in a light cream sauce.  And then, a little lemon tart with flickering birthday candles from Carlton bakery, as Mr. English sang me a happy birthday serenade in harmony with Maman over Skype.  A clarinetist played downstairs.  It was breathless.

Cassoulet CornerCassoulet Spread

Despite all the walking and shopping and eating on the Ritzier side of normal, I still found myself in the trenches: the basement of the 6th arrondissement Monoprix.  Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.  Mr. English and I went down there to buy a little padlock, to etch our initials in the metal and snap it onto the Pont des Arts, along with all the other couples whose locks dangle from the bridge over the Seine, into which we ardently threw the keys.  But while I was there, despite Mr. English’s tugging on my coat sleeve, I couldn’t help but snatch up a few key pantry items: Maille cornichons, caviar d’aubergines, and after this summer in Toulouse, a can of cassoulet from Castelnaudary.

If you read this blog with any frequency you will have read my over the top emotional diatribes on the cassoulets of Castelnaudary–there are no words.  I can call myself a writer, but in reality, I’m an eater, and at times, with my mouth full, words fail me.  In Paris, we were a long way from Castelnaudary and Toulouse and the Pyrenees from this summer.  So, when I saw the gorgeous hand-drawn label, informing me that I could buy real Castelnaudary cassoulet with either pork, duck, or goose confit, for 4 Euros, rest assured that I had all three cans in the basket before Mr. English pried away the duck and goose from my scraping, scrabbling grasp.

Saturday lunch was the perfect moment.  I opened the can, and heated it gently in a small covered pot over low heat.  I squeezed in half a head of roasted garlic, to emphasize that garlicky Castelnaudary punch that haunted me way past dinnertime all summer, and added in some fresh leaves of thyme.  The haricots blancs were creamy, the sausage and pork confit falling apart and perfect.  When the cassoulet was bubbling, I poured it into a shallow baking dish, and covered it with fresh breadcrumbs (3/4 cup to be exact) and a small handful of chopped parsley, salt and pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.  I baked it at 400 degrees until the crumbs were crispy golden brown, and then I covered it in foil and lowered the heat to 325 to let it get good and hotter.  I tore up some bread, and tossed a salad (you must always have salad with cassoulet!).  I brought it to the table, straight from the can, with a couple of added embellishments.  It was gorgeous.  I had had cassoulet two weeks earlier at a fancy London French establishment, and it didn’t touch Castelnaudary in a can.  The sausage was porky and garlicky, like Toulouse sausage should be.  The pork confit was lean, and firm, but falling apart with the nudge of a fork.  The beans were creamy, and so flavorful that Mr. English, carnivore that he is, told me he wished they sold cassoulet beans without any of the fixings.  Because wouldn’t that be healthier?

Sigh.  If only he understood about the duck fat.

How is it that French food can still be this good–from a can?  Canned food, to me, is hurricane emergency preparedness–eating baby corn from salty canned water with my fingers in a shuttered, August-hot powerless room.  But this, it was real food.  It was no wonder they named a whole dance the can-can.  Makes perfect and absolute sense.

Cassoulet PlateCassoulet Closeup

This cassoulet was made by La Belle Chaurienne.

Available from Monoprix.

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Categories: Finds, Paris, Voyages
 

French in a Flash: Camargue Red Rice Salad

RECIPE: Camargue Red Rice Salad
Camargue Red Rice Salad

Camargue Red Rice Salad

A few summers ago, I spent a day in the Camargue, a part of France that had, for some reason, completely eluded my knowledge of the country.  Cowboys.  French cowboys, that ride around on snowy white horseback, in a flat grasslands, herding.  I had always thought that we Americans had the monopoly on cowboys, but as it turns out, that is not the case.  Beautiful crystalline salts are dried out in the sun.  And restaurants serve stews made of the bulls herded down the grasslands.

That is where Camargue Red Rice comes from.  I am a rice fanatic: a simple food that I am content to eat simply, with just a pinch of that Camargue salt.  I recently discovered Camarge Red Rice at the supermarket: it looks like grains of long-grain black rice merged with brown basmati rice, and turned a deep russet red.  It has a chewy texture, and a delicious mild but present flavor.  I cook it as the French do, like pasta, in a huge pot of salted boiling water until it is al dente, and then I drain it in a colander.

Finally, for this salad, I toss it with everything green: a lemony green parsley and olive oil sauce, little jewels of zucchini and haricots verts, slivers of green olives and walnuts, shards of scallions and fresh raw spinach.  It is so full of flavor and health and texture that you can’t help but love it.  Serve it room temperature next to some roast chicken or charred whole fish, and you’re in business.

You can find Camargue Red Rice online, but if you can’t use it for whatever reason, try a wild rice blend, or some forbidden black rice with this recipe.

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats.

Camargue Red Rice Salad
serves 4 to 6

Camargue Red Rice SaladINGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups Camargue Red Rice
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 medium zucchini, small dice
  • 1 cup chopped haricots verts
  • 1 1/2 cups flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced
  • 40 French green olives, such as lucques or picholine, pitted and chopped
  • 2 cups spinach, chiffonade
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

PROCEDURE

Boil the rice just as you would pasta, in a large pot of boiling salted water, for 30 minutes, or until it is tender, but still has a firm texture.  Add the zucchini and  haricots verts, and cook an additional 5 minutes.  Drain the rice and vegetables together.

While the rice and vegetables are draining, roughly chop the parsley, and add it to the food processor with the olive oil and salt.  Run the machine for 5 minutes, until you have a very green parsley oil.  Add the lemon juice and some pepper, and then add all the sauce to the rice, along with the scallions, and toss well.

Leave the rice salad to cool completely to room temperature.  Just before serving, toss in the olives, spinach, and walnuts.  Serve at room temperature alongside poultry or fish, or as one of many vegetarian salads.

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Categories: 60 Minutes, Cheap, Eat, French in a Flash, Recipes, Salad, Series, Sides, Soup & Salad, Starches, Vegetarian
 

Thanksgiving Redux: Autumn Apple Sangria

RECIPE: Autumn Apple Sangria
Apple Sangria

Autumn Apple Sangria

Aside from my champagne toast, I don’t like to have straight wine with my Thanksgiving dinner.  I like just a touch of sweetness to cut through all the savory turkey.  And stuffing.  And potatoes.  And sprouts.  And beans.  Something bright and bubbly to break through the parade.  I always serve cidre buché, or corked cider.  It’s a term that applies to dry apple cider from Normandy or Brittany, cheap even though it comes in bottles that are strangely reminiscent of champagne.  Dry, but still apply.  This cocktail is even more fun.  I soak slices of green apples and grapes in white wine and Calvados, a Norman apple brandy.  Simple syrup and seltzer add sparkle and sweetness.  Something to toast with, and to.

Autumn Apple Sangria
serves as many as you want.

Apple SangriaHow to Make My White Apple Sangria

Boil 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup of water for 3 minutes.  Set aside to cool.  In a large pitcher, pour a cold bottle of white wine and Calvados to taste.  Add in slices of Granny Smith apples and halved green grapes until it's quite full of fruit.  Allow to sit in the fridge, covered, for a few hours.  Add a bottle of seltzer and the cooled simple syrup to taste.  Stir, and serve cold.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Cocktails, Drinks, Easy, Eat, Recipes, Vegetarian
 

Thanksgiving Redux: Maple Cracker Jacks

RECIPE: Maple Popcorn and Peanuts
Maple Cracker Jacks

Maple Cracker Jacks

I love Cracker Jacks.  And they somewhat inspired this popcorn.  I bubble up maple syrup until it forms a caramel, and then toss it with air-popped popcorn and toasted salted peanuts.  I let it set and get sweet and crunchy, then I scoop it into cellophane bags and give it to my guests to take home with them–if they can wait that long.

Maple Popcorn and Peanuts
serves a crowd

Maple Cracker JacksHow to Make My Maple Popcorn and Peanuts

Boil 1 cup of maple syrup to 235 degrees F.  Toss in about 9 cups of freshly popped plain popcorn and 1/2 to 3/4 cup of salted, roasted cocktail peanuts.  Toss well and carefully with a silicone spatula.  Spread the mixture on parchment-coated baking sheets sprayed with nonstick spray.  Allow to cool completely.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Cheap, Desserts, Eat, Recipes, Vegetarian
 

Thanksgiving Redux: Bitter Greens Salad with Dried Cranberries, Goat Cheese, and Spicy Maple Vinaigrette

RECIPE: Bitter Greens Salad with Dried Cranberries, Goat Cheese, and Spicy Maple Vinaigrette
Bitter Greens Salad with Cranberries and Goat Cheese

Bitter Greens Salad with Cranberries and Goat Cheese

My friend Jessie’s mom inspired this salad.  She’s forever coming up with gorgeous combinations of seeds and proteins and fruits and nuts to put in her salads.  She even adds wasabi peas–totally genius in a salad.  This one is particularly festive, as I toss baby spinach, arugula, and radicchio with dried cranberries, walnuts, and crumbed goat cheese.  A quick maple-Dijon dressing adds sweetness, spice, everything nice.

Bitter Greens Salad with Dried Cranberries, Goat Cheese, and Spicy Maple Vinaigrette
serves a crowd

Bitter Greens Salad with Cranberries and Goat CheeseHow to Make My Bitter Greens Salad with Cranberries and Goat Cheese

Mix one part white wine vinegar with two parts olive oil.  Add Dijon mustard, maple syrup, salt, and pepper to taste, and whisk together.  In a large bowl, toss together baby spinach, baby arugula, chopped radicchio, walnuts, dried cranberries, and crumbled fresh goat cheese.  Lightly dress the salad, and serve right away.  Corn bread croutons wouldn't be a bad idea!

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Easy, Eat, Recipes, Salad, Soup & Salad, Vegetarian
 

Thanksgiving Redux: Smoked Turkey, Munster, and Lemon Baguettes

RECIPE: Smoked Turkey, Munster, and Lemon Sandwiches
Yura Turkey Sandwiches

Smoked Turkey, Munster, and Lemon Sandwiches

These are inspired by my favorite sandwich at Yura on Madison.  Chewy skinny tiny baguettes (or you can cut up big ones) layered with thinly sliced smoked turkey breast, Munster cheese, romaine lettuce, vine tomatoes, and lemony mayo.  Tie them with twine, and serve them with Terra sweet potato chips.  Simple, but gorgeous and hip.

Smoked Turkey, Munster, and Lemon Sandwiches
serves a crowd

Smoked Turkey, Munster, and Lemon SandwichesHow to Make My Smoked Turkey, Munster, and Lemon Sandwiches

Buy as many fusettes or baguettes or ficelles as you want for the amount of people you're having.  Slit them open horizontally.  Mix together mayonnaise and lemon juice and lemon zest to taste.  Season the mayo with salt and pepper.  Lightly mayo both sides of bread.  Layer on sliced smoked turkey from the deli counter, sliced Munster cheese, halved leaves of romaine lettuce, and just a couple thin slices of vine-ripe tomato.  Use as much or as little of any ingredient as you like.  Serve with sweet potato chips for a Thanksgiving redux.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Bread & Butter, Cheap, Easy, Eat, Recipes, Sandwiches