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French in a Flash: Multigrain Spaghetti with Pistou Forestier

Mushrooms and I have had a long, turbulent history.

When I was a little girl, I loved pizza. In that sense, I haven't grown up at all. But every slice of pizza I had as a little one had to be covered in a thick blanket of sliced mushrooms. Sometimes, I would allow a few olives to join in, but most of the time it was me and mushroom pizza at the park, me and mushroom pizza out shopping with maman, me and mushroom pizza in front of the TV.

So you can imagine what a shock it was, to both me and poor mushrooms, that one fateful day when I bit into my mushroom pizza at the zoo and realized that, lo and behold, I absolutely hated mushrooms. I've heard on daytime talk shows, stories of ladies who've been happily married for thirty-five years, who wake up one dark morning, and can't stand the sight of their not-so-beloveds. I imagine it was something like that.

I can't say the same for mushrooms, who lurked behind every glass pizza case, demanding my return, or at least an explanation, but as for me, I moved on pretty quickly. Broccoli pizza and I were pretty steady for a while, though sometimes green pepper moved in. But I was vegetarian for over a decade growing up, and maman did not take my parting with mushrooms with quite my flippancy.

Mothers always have an opinion on who their young daughters spend time with, don't they? Why couldn't I recognize a good thing when I had it, she wondered. Maman insisted that mushrooms were the only vegetarian source of vitamin B, and unless I wanted to be in a bad mood for my entire adolescence--and, I might add, I was for a good part of it--I had better straighten up and go back to mushrooms.

Maman invited mushrooms over as often as she could. Mushrooms showed up in almost everything on my plate. Sometimes maman hid mushrooms away in veggie burgers--sometimes she was not so subtle, and the whole veggie burger would be a mushroom. Turns out vitamin B12 is not Love Potion Number 9. I turned my nose up at all of them.

"I refuse mushrooms!" I shouted. Although, what mushrooms had done wrong to me, I couldn't say.

And then one day, as if by magic, the curse lifted. Mushrooms was wearing his shiitake outfit that day, and I took one look, and then one bite, and I fell truly, madly, deeply back in love. Maman says I finally grew up and came to my senses.

When you order something "forestier" in France, it means you're in for a rendezvous with mushrooms. The name, for me, evokes images of a medieval maiden, meandering through a dense French forest with her pig on a leash, treasure-hunting for truffles and gathering up hoards of champignons in her basket along the way.

It also evokes the sensation of eating mushrooms--the earthy smell of the forest floor, the taste and color of the woods. For this dish, I pair the nutty, earthy flavor of multigrain spaghetti with a blend of roasted wild mushrooms, ground into a pistou with walnuts, shallots, garlic, and a trinity of sage, thyme, and parsley. I stir in crème fraîche for mellow luxurious heft, top with crispy French prosciutto and fried chips of parsley and sage, and anoint with my medieval maiden's truffle oil.

Pistou, or pesto, isn't just for basil anymore. This is easy enough, and healthy enough, to serve to your family, but unusual and elegant enough to pass at a party. Merci, M. Forestier. And bisous to my champion champignon.

About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way. She also writes the The Secret Ingredient series for Serious Eats.

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