Never to be outdone by their Italian neighbors, cooks in Provence have their own fragrant version of pesto. We first came across pistou in Marseille as a no-cook basil and garlic sauce stirred into a hearty bean soup. But variations abound, and yes, they also will mix it with pasta.
In this pappardelle recipe from our book "Tuesday Nights Mediterranean," which features weeknight-friendly meals from the region, we took inspiration from Richard Olney's classic book "Lulu's Provençal Table." The sauce comes together quickly in a food processor and is redolent with the bold flavors of Southern France -- peppery basil and ample garlic, of course, but also rich anchovies for an extra hit of umami.
We finish the sauced pasta with toasted chili-spiked breadcrumbs (we prefer panko for its light, crisp texture) for subtle spiciness and a welcome textural contrast to the al dente noodles.
Pappardelle is a wide, flat, ribbon-like noodle, often made with egg and shaped into nests before drying. If it's not available, tagliatelle is the best substitute, followed by fettuccine.
Don't forget to reserve some of the cooking liquid before draining the pasta. Adding a small amount of the starchy water while tossing the anchovy-basil puree with the noodles helps create a silky sauce that coats the pappardelle.
Pappardelle with Basil, Anchovy and Toasted Breadcrumbs
Start to finish: 35 minutes
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
12 ounces dried pappardelle pasta
2-ounce tin oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained (12 fillets)
3 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 cups lightly packed fresh basil
In a 10-inch skillet over medium, heat 2 tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add the panko, pepper flakes and ⅛ teaspoon salt, then cook, stirring often, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel--lined plate.
In a large pot, bring 4 quarts water to a boil. Stir in the pasta and 1 tablespoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Reserve about ¼ cup of the cooking water, then drain and return the pasta to the pot.
Meanwhile, in a food processor, process the anchovies, garlic, and a pinch each of salt and black pepper to form a chunky paste, about 5 seconds. Scrape the bowl. Add the basil and pulse until finely chopped, 8 to 10 pulses, then scrape the bowl. With the machine running, drizzle in ½ cup oil, then process until well combined, 8 to 10 seconds.
Add the anchovy-basil puree to the pasta and toss to combine, adding reserved pasta water as needed so the sauce coats the noodles. Serve sprinkled with the toasted breadcrumbs.