When it comes to European cuisine, Italians get most of the credit for great pasta dishes. But like many of us, the French home cook often relies on pasta as the base of a quick, nourishing meal. Pasta also pops up often in restaurants throughout France.
While pasta dishes can be as indifferently slung in France as they are anywhere, they can also be sublime. (I’m dreaming, right now, of a fabulous Duck Confit and Wild Mushroom Lasagna that I enjoyed in St. Rémy de Provence.)
To tap into the world of French pasta, start by keying into these concepts. Then, try a classic, below. You’ll find more of my favorite French pasta recipes in The Bonne Femme Cookbook: Simple, Splendid Food That French Women Cook Every Day.
French Pasta: The Noodles
If you’ve ever enjoyed pasta from a great French kitchen, you might have wondered: What makes these noodles so good? Sometimes they’re homemade. But often, it’s simply a matter of the pasta they use. Tagliatelle, made with eggs, is a favorite; these long, thin, ribbon-like noodles add an irresistibly slithery texture and rich flavor to the dish.
Find dried tagliatelle, made with eggs, at Italian specialty shops or Whole Foods (I particularly like the Bionaturae brand, from Italy). Often found at World Market, egg-rich Grand’Mère Pâtes d’Alsace is very much like tagliatelle.
French Pasta: The Cheese
One way French pastas dishes swing French is thanks to the French cheeses used in the recipes. Comté or Emmental (versions from France, not Switzerland, of course) often star prominently. I’ve also enjoyed many a dish made with aged goat cheese, which gets melty and oozy when tossed with the hot pasta.
French cooks also use Parmigiano-Reggiano; the famed Italian cheese is widely available in France and is often used sparingly to bring its bold snap to a dish (as in the recipe, below).
French Pasta: The Herbs
Italians prominently feature basil and oregano; French cooks use those herbs, too. But often, favorite French herbs, such as parsley, chives, tarragon, and chervil, and herb blends, such as herbes de Provence and fines herbes, are called on to make pasta dishes unmistakably French.
Recette: Tagliatelle with Bacon and Gruyère
Pâtes aux lardons—creamy pasta studded with thick, luscious cubes of French bacon—is a popular any-night dish in France. Here, I’ve substituted American slab bacon for the hard-to-find French-style lardons. While the dish is sometimes made with crème fraîche and eggs, this version calls on a white sauce for a dish that’s lusciously rich but not quite as heavy.
Makes 4 servings
6 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
11/2 cups 2 percent or whole milk, plus more if needed
1 thick slice onion
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 cup shredded Gruyère, Emmental, Comté, or fontina cheese (about 4 ounces)
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 ounces dried tagliatelle or fettucine
1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley and/or chives
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.
2. In a large saucepan, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp but not hard. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of bacon drippings from the pan.
3. Return the pan to the heat and whisk in the flour to make a smooth paste; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Do not allow the flour mixture to brown. Slowly add the milk, whisking until smooth. Add the onion and garlic and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened and bubbly, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the onion and garlic from the sauce and discard. Add the cheeses to the sauce and whisk until melted and smooth. If the sauce seems too thick, stir in up to 1/2 cup more milk to reach the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the bacon.
4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the package directions; drain and return to the pot.
5. Toss the pasta with the sauce. Divide among four wide, shallow bowls, sprinkle with chives, and serve.
Photo of Tagliatelle with Bacon and Gruyère by Richard Swearinger.
Wini Moranville is the author of The Bonne Femme Cookbook: Simple, Splendid Food That French Women Cook Every Day (Harvard Common Press; 2011). Follow her on her blog at http://chezbonnefemme.com or on Facebook at Chez Bonne Femme.
I am pleased as punch to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I will personally be leading. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.
Tours cost 210 euros for up to 3 people, and 70 euros for each additional person. I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris.
Check it out at www.eyepreferparistours.com
New! Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes
I am happy to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes. Come take an ethnic culinary journey with me and chef and caterer Charlotte Puckette, co-author of the bestseller The Ethnic Paris Cookbook (with Olivia Kiang-Snaije). First we will shop at a Paris green-market for the freshest ingredients and then return to Charlotte's professional kitchen near the Eiffel Tower to cook a three-course lunch. After, we will indulge in the delicious feast we prepared along with hand-selected wines.
Cost: 185 euros per person (about $240)
Time: 9:30AM- 2PM (approximately 4 1/2 hours)
Location: We will meet by a metro station close to the market
Class days: Tuesday,Wednesday, Thursday,Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
Minimum of 2 students, maximum 6 students.
Click here to sign up for the next class or for more info.
I am happy to announce the sale of a new set of prints of my Eye Prefer Paris Photos. I am offering 20 of my most popular and iconic images for sale including my doors, architectural details, statues, and monuments. They will make great gifts for all your Francophile friends, relatives, and colleagues but don't forget to buy some for yourself.
Click here to see photos and for full details including sizes, prices, and shipping. Here is a sample of some of the photos.