I’d been out in the cold and wind all day and as much as I love my minestrone (and already had some in the fridge), I was in the mood for something different, but yet still Italian. If you find that I’ve just disappeared and you don’t know where to find me, look in Rome. I’ll probably be there. I love that little country shaped like a boot.
Anyway, I’ve had Italy on my mind recently and when I saw a recipe for a pasta made with kale and breadcrumbs in a recent issue of Bon Appetit, this seemed like a great idea. Even though kale is not to be found over here (though I read that French farmers are starting to grow it), I already had a handy swap-out: there were these gi-normous, Texas-sized bags of baby spinach at the stinky Franprix a couple of days ago, and I do love me some spinach, especially when I can get a big ol’ bunch of it for 2.50 euros – deal!
While I’m at it, let me just go on about the power — and the plain good sense –of homemade breadcrumbs. They are a perfect way to use up stale bread, and they give all sorts of things, from pasta to soups, a surprising crunch and pop of flavor.
There are also mushrooms in here, but I realized after I took this photo that you can’t really see them. They’re in there. Really.
Plus, they were on sale – just 99 centimes for a half-pound — so I threw them in my cart the other day. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have had them because I’m often lazy when it comes to mushrooms. The cleaning! Ugh. And lately I can never find my cute little mushroom brush, which makes the task less arduous. Do I sound lazy?
But I cannot resist a bargain, which these certainly were.
Which brings up a point that may surprise some of you. I spend far less money each week on groceries in Paris than I do when I’m in Dallas — and not just at the fancy stores — I’m talking about the Denton Kroger, too. This wasn’t always the case, but seems like prices in the U.S. have gotten super-high in the last couple of years.
Mind you, I buy a lot of groceries — I’m always testing recipes for this site, or my Fort Worth Star-Telegram column, or the Dallas Morning News — and I tend to go to the market a lot. But I noticed that on this last trip to Texas, I spent a lot more per item than before, and as you know, it’s those little things that add up.
I’m grateful that most of the time, Paris prices beat Texas ones. Even when I don’t have time to go to the Belleville market across town, where veggies are super, price-slashy cheap, I can find things at the stinky Franprix and the Casino that end up costing me far less than what I’d pay in Texas. Broccoli’s been on sale everywhere lately for 99 centimes, so guess what I’ve been eating a lot of lately? Ditto on other wintery crops – cabbage, choufleur, and pumpkin.
In Texas, cheeses are far more expensive than what I pay here (and I know we’re not talking about the same exact cheeses, but still). Same with wine and bread, which really, if you think about it, there’s a meal…or a picnic. A baguette’s usually 1.20 euros; you can find a decent bottle of Burgundy for 5 to 10. I found that I paid about the same for eggs, but in the U.S., I didn’t know where my eggs came from, and here, I do.
Milk products overall seem higher in the U.S. Butter’s more. Milk. Cream. Sour cream (which we don’t really have in France, anyway – we have creme fraiche, which is much better). And the flavor of these things, state-side? Eh.
Other things that I found myself paying more for in Texas:
-Lettuces of all sorts – arugula, baby spinach, etc. Why do they come in such super-size containers?
-Toilet paper. And hey, where’s the Frenchy purple and the pink?
-Mustard. The French eat mustard like we do ketchup (but not on sandwiches). It’s used for vinaigrettes, sauces, and in quiches.
-Canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, paste, etc.
Coffee’s about the same; flour, sugar, and baking ingredients are about what you’d pay in the States. A big contributor to the smaller check-out ticket in Paris is the ability to buy less – one stalk of celery instead of an entire bag; a wedge of a pumpkin instead of the whole thing. Nearly everything is available in its smallest size and/or quantity — which makes sense because people live in smaller spaces, have tiny fridges and therefore don’t make as much as we do at home, or have tons of food leftover.
Or, better put, waste.
I asked a friend of mine who’s lived here longer than I have if she thought it was cheaper to buy groceries in Paris and she agreed that they were. The better deal in the States? Small appliances, she said.
And Ziploc bags.
Spinach and Mushroom Pasta with Homemade Ricotta and Garlicky Breadcrumbs
Makes 4 servings
- olive oil
- ¼ pound/250 grams of white mushrooms (champignons de Paris), chopped in chunks
- sea salt and pepper
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 pounds/1 kilo of baby spinach
- a pinch of nutmeg
- 1 cup of homemade breadcrumbs*
- ½ box/tk ounces/tk grams of penne pasta
- a pinch of red pepper flakes
- 2 heaping tablespoons of homemade ricotta (recipe here)
- ¼ cup of freshly grated Parmesan
1. Drizzle 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a large skillet and turn the heat to medium-high. Add your mushrooms along with a pinch of salt and pepper and let them cook until they’ve browned on all sides. Remove the mushrooms from the skillet and pour them into a bowl.
2. In the same skillet, drizzle 2 tablespoons of oil and add 1 of the minced garlic cloves. Turn the heat to medium-high and let cook until you can smell the garlic; 3 to 5 minutes. Add your spinach, a pinch of salt, pepper and nutmeg and let cook just until it begins to wilt (it’ll keep cooking once you remove it from the skillet so I always undercook my spinach). Put the cooked spinach in another bowl and let cool.
3. Same skillet (don’t you love it?), 1 more tablespoon of olive oil and the second minced garlic clove. Heat on medium-high, once again. You know what to do — cook till you smell the garlic, then add the breadcrumbs, a pinch of s + p, and let this cook, stirring every now and then, until the breadcrumbs brown. This’ll take 5 minutes, tops. Pour these into a small bowl, too. Don’t wash your skillet yet!
4. Put your pasta onto boil. When it’s al dente, drain your pasta. 5. Put 1 tablespoon of olive oil in your favorite skillet, add a big pinch of red pepper flakes, and let this sizzle for a minute or two. Add your pasta, mushrooms, spinach, ricotta, and toss till it’s warmed through. Add nearly all of the Parmesan and breadcrumbs (save some for the garnish) and toss again. Serve immediately in shallow bowls with the remaining Parmesan and breadcrumbs on top.
*To make homemade breadcrumbs, simply put your stale bread (sliced or in torn pieces) in your big food processor and pulse until you have fine crumbs.