Serious Eats: Recipes

French in a Flash: Red Pistou Pasta with Shrimp and Crunchy Herbes de Provence Crumbs

[Photographs: Kerry Saretsky]

Last summer about this time I arrived in Provence for a three week family holiday in Cassis, a storybook fishing village turned fashionable retreat. Like any food writer worth her salt, I arrived armed with a list of Provençal specialties I wanted to have at the source, like wine off the vineyard or water gushing from the spring. Unadulterated and authentic.

The list included the likes of soupe de poisson, bouillabaisse, socca, pissaladière, tapenade, and aïoli. It was enumerable—and I managed to eat it all. But first on my list was the contested pistou.

I say "contested" because there appear to be a million ways to make pistou, a southern French version of pesto sans nuts. I was thrilled to drag my family to a casual sidewalk bistro tucked up the hill whose menu touted pasta pistou, only to find when it arrived that it wasn't green, but red! It was like getting Coke when you'd ordered Sprite. Not the worst thing in the world, but a surprise all the same. Of course, it soon dawned on me that the two competing iterations of pistou that I'd heard about were the one with tomato and the one without. I had always grown up on a straight basil pistou, so this steaming heap was even more of a boon that I had bargained for: I was finally going to get to taste the competition.

It's as summery as green pistou, which reeks of anise-sweet basil and garlic and soaks in the olive oil in which everything in Provence seems delightfully afloat. Red pistou is equally, if not more, pungent—garlic galore, with hints of fresh parsley and basil. Pistou can be made with tomato paste, but this version undoubtedly had dried tomatoes. It was sweet, sharp, and we stank of garlic for two days, but it was heaven. There was nothing shy about it: the flavor, the portion, the color, the declaration of Provence.

For this version, I take my version of red pistou, and crown it with crunchy, salty bread crumbs made from crumbled old baguettes and earthy herbes de Provence. I add seared jumbo shrimp to make it a meal, but the shrimp or crumbs could be omitted for something more authentic. Serve it as it is, or with grilled fish or steak. You'll feel like you're back in Cassis in no time.

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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