Serious Eats: Recipes

French in a Flash: Campanelle with Eggplant Caviar

[Photograph: Kerry Saretsky]

One thing (of the many things) I love about France is the way the French Frenchify everything that they can't already lay claim to. Last week on my blog, I wrote about how the French have even managed to Frenchify McDonald's into the one and only McDo. But aside from colonizing American fast food, the French have a funny little way of smuggling pasta away from the Italians and turning it decidedly French.

In the South of France, pasta is on every menu (and not surprisingly—when I was in Menton a few weeks ago, I could walk to Italy). The Southerners have a huge predilection for tagliatelle tossed with very French sauces—no marinara or pomodoro in sight. I saw tagliatelle tossed with Roquefort and cream, with mushrooms, and with Provençal red pistou instead of the Italian pesto (which inspired my tagliatelle with yellow zucchini flower pistou). I had penne topped with a huge scoop of leftover ratatouille, and ratatouille baked into lasagna, slathered with an oozing, collapsing layer of mozzarella mixed with toasty Gruyère. The trend seems to be to take French condiments—or in the case of mushrooms, traditional French flavor combinations like Forestier—and toss them over pasta. And it really works. For me, it's like coming back to my childhood home and realizing there was a whole undiscovered attic where I could play for hours on end without losing an ounce of fascination.

In my next interpretation of this very easy, cheap, and, best of all, delicious attic foray, I toss campanelle pasta with caviar d'aubergines. Caviar d'aubergines, or eggplant caviar, isn't caviar at all, but a garlicky spread made from charred eggplants, puréed until smooth and thick, and accented with a touch of vinegar, olive oil, and sometimes a bite of chili. (It is so good; Mr. English and I have a tradition whenever we're in France, where we buy a container of the stuff premade and a baguette, and plop down in the nearest pretty place for an immediate picnic.) For this version, I purée roasted garlic, basil, and a touch of chili with the eggplant, and toss it over trumpets of campanelle pasta, studded with toasted pine nuts and laced with strings of fresh basil. It's unusual and hearty, and you could even serve it to vegans.

The one thing I really took to heart when I was in France this summer is how much fun it is to cook seasonally. There, you don't have much of a choice—frequenting markets means you make do with what's offered. Since eggplant is in season in the late summer, along with basil, now is the time when this dish is cheapest and best. Don't waste another second!

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.

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