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One French Word: frit, a French recipe: Pâtes fraîches aux épinards, aux câpres et à la coppa frite

Pâtes fraîches, coppa frite

Pâtes fraîches, coppa frite

We are lucky in France to be able to buy really excellent fresh pasta. All sorts. I use mostly tagliatelle. I’ve tried making them myself, but it seems to be something I’m not really very good at. Maybe I’ll take myself off to Italy one of these days and do an intensive course with a wonderful Italian lady who makes it every day… Pasta is so versatile, you can always find the ingredients for one sauce or another, and even plain, with just a little olive oil, a squeeze of garlic and a few shavings of parmesan, it is always so satisfying.

The French grammar bit (rather a lot today, if you are not interested, scroll quickly down to the recipe!):

frit, adjective, frit (m), frite (f), frits (, frites ( = fried, pronounced free (for the masculine), freet (for the feminine), don’t pronounce the s

From the verb frire = to fry (je fris = I fry)

But also a feminine noun, une frite = a chip/French fry.

Pommes de terre frites (or simply pommes frites or frites) = chips/French fries (literally fried potatoes, but when they are not in the shape of chips/French fries, they are called pommes de terre sautées, slices or cubes for instance).

Steak frites    (also written steack frites) = steak and chips/French fries, is the French national dish, the food most consumed in France, despite all the gastronomic dreams non-French nationals may have of what the French eat on a daily basis. It is the dish most often served in French restaurants, according to a recent survey. I personally eat it about twice a year, never at home, always in a brasserie (an old-style French restaurant), as I eat little red meat and few chips come to that.

Expressions include avoir la frite, or avoir la patate, both meaning to be on good form  (il a la frite, il a la patate = he is on good form).    (You can also say avoir la pêche to mean the same thing, as we saw in a previous post, probably used more than frite or patate.)

The recipe today is for pâtes fraîches aux épinards, aux câpres et à la coppa frite    (fresh pasta topped with wilted spinach, capers and fried crispy coppa). Coppa is italian cured rolled pork, something like raw ham. You can use bacon, but it’s not quite the same, or raw ham, but it needs to be a little fatty to crisp up properly.

Do read this recipe through before starting to cook! It is not complicated at all, but you need to go very fast, or the pasta overcooks or goes cold, and the crispy coppa uncrisps.

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for 2 to 3 people:

  • 1 packet of fresh pasta of your choice (mine are tagliatelle and the packet weighs 350gr) . You can use dried pasta if you wish. 
  • 1 packet or about 12 thin slices of coppa
  • 2 tsp of capers drained of their vinegar
  • three good handfuls of spinach leaves, washed, destalked and dried in a tea towel (they don’t have to be baby leaves, mature ones will be just as good)
  • a clove of garlic, chopped finely
  • fresh parmesan cheese, either grated or shaved (a couple of tbs per serving) 
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
Wilting the spinach

Wilting the spinach


  • If you are using fresh pasta, which only takes a couple of minutes to cook, prepare all the other ingredients, lay the table and pour the wine before cooking the pasta in salted water. If you are using dried pasta, you should have enough time to do all that while it is cooking. Whatever you use, follow the suggested cooking time on the packet and don’t forget to salt your cooking water.
  • Cut the slices of coppa into 2cm (3/4 inch) strips (stack the slices and cut them with kitchen scissors).
  • In a frying pan or wok, with a little olive oil, fry the coppa until it is quite crispy. Stir it to separate the slices.  Remove from the pan to a plate covered with a double layer of kitchen roll.
  • Fry the garlic rapidly in the same oil, stirring, for about 30 seconds.
  • Throw in the spinach leaves, stirring rapidly, just to wilt them. Have the capers ready prepared, add to the spinach as soon as it is wilted, turn off the heat.
  • Drain the pasta. Divide between individual plates. This all has to be done very fast. Top with a drizzle of olive oil, a portion of the spinach and capers, finish with the crispy coppa. Grind a bit of fresh black pepper, and sprinkle with grated or shaved parmesan.  Don’t insult this dish by using ready grated, packeted parmesan, which is inferior and tasteless usually, compared to the real thing. Treat yourself to a chunk which you must keep wrapped in the fridge. Expensive but classy!
  • Serve quickly, accompanied by a glass of lusty red, something from the Languedoc or Gaillac if you are serving French wine.

Pâtes fraîches

Which pasta do you prefer, fresh or dried? Can you get fresh pasta where you live? Or maybe you are good at making it (in which case you can give me a lesson!).

Bon appétit!

One French word: demi-sel, a French recipe: coquilles farcies au fromage demi-sel

Demi-sel, invariable adjective = literally “half-salted”.

Butter and soft fresh cheese can be said to be demi-sel. Salt is added to a product which is not naturally salted.

Du beurre demi-sel = salted butter

Du fromage demi-sel = salted fresh soft cheese

My recipe for today uses large pasta shells stuffed with a herb and cream cheese mixture : coquilles farcies au fromage demi-sel.

The type of shells to buy - check that they are not broken

Per person:

  • 6-7 coquilles
  • olive oil
  • 100gr fromage frais demi-sel (fresh salted cream cheese)
  • a handful of chopped chives
  • a handful of chopped basil
  • a handful of pine nuts
  • a handful of chopped stoned olives, green or black or a mixture
  • pepper
  • tomato sauce
  • grated cheese (optional)

Main ingredients

Boil a large saucepan of salted water and cook the coquilles for two minutes less than the time recommended on the packet (mine said 18 minutes, I cooked them 16 minutes). Put a little olive oil in the water to prevent them sticking to each other or to the sides of the saucepan. But keep an eye on them and detach them if you see them trying to get too close. The problem if they stick is that they break and split and are difficult to stuff afterwards.

While they are cooking,  mix the cream cheese with the herbs, pepper, and pine nuts. Don’t salt, the cheese is already salted.

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

Drain the shells gently and put them the right way up in an oiled baking dish to cool.

With two teaspoons, place a tsp of mixture into each shell. Cover well with fairly liquid tomato sauce (home made or your favourite bottled version). I used Panzani Fresh Tomato and Olive, which I’m very keen on at the moment. No pasta should be showing or it will dry out in the oven. Add grated cheese if you wish.

Place in a hot oven for 10 minutes, this will warm up all the ingredients and finish cooking the pasta. It is quite a good idea to do them in individual dishes so as not to have to disturb the  shells when  serving them. Add more chopped basil before serving.

This was so good…

Bon appétit!

One French word; pâtes, a French recipe: pâtes aux légumes du soleil

Pâtes, feminine plural noun (les pâtes, des pâtes) = pasta (pronounced paaat,  with a long a, like in “aha”, and you don’t pronounce the final s). Remember what I said about a circumflex, little hat, denoting a lost ‘s’? It is the case here.

In the singular, la pâte is pastry. Pasta is always in the plural. Pâtes fraîches = fresh pasta, pâtes italiennes = Italian pasta. Then there are pâtes farcies, such as ravioli.  Another word is nouilles = noodles ‘pronounced nooo-y, no s). These are usually smaller, shell shaped (coquillettes), twisted (tortillons), bow tie shaped (papillons). Also Chinese noodles = nouilles chinoises.

If you called someone a nouille, or a nouillette, or a nounouille in French, it is like calling someone a noodle in English, meaning they are silly or simple-minded. It is almost a term of endearment when addressed to a child.

Another expression is une bonne pâte, meaning someone dependable, if rather slow.

Not to be confused with pâté, which is still a paste, but meat, and cooked.

Pasta is a good carbohydrate, one that sticks by you. It is not the pasta which is calorific, but what we put on it: butter, cheese, creamy sauces. My recipe today is vegetarian: des pâtes aux légumes du soleil.


Salade de pâtes

Pasta topping

For four people you will need:

  • 380gr of dried pasta,  or 550gr of fresh pasta, or again 700gr of stuffed pasta (ravioli, tortellini)
  • A little olive oil
  • 2 small courgettes (zucchini)
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 2 small onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • A glass of dry white wine
  • A bunch of fresh basil (du basilic frais)
  • A little butter
  • Some freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper



  1. Begin by making your pasta topping: boil up a kettle, put the tomatoes into a large bowl, pour boiling water over them, stick them in several places with a sharp knife, and after a minute, remove from the boiling water to a chopping board. Skin the tomatoes (monder les tomates). This step is important, don’t leave it out! Cut the tomatoes in half, remove the core and the seeds and cut into chunks about the size of your thumbnail.
  2. Peel and chop the onions; put into a frying pan to sweat gently in some olive oil.
  3. Peel and chop the garlic and add to the onion.
  4. Wash and halve the courgettes lengthwise. Cut off the ends and discard. Cut each half lengthwise again and chunk like the tomatoes. Add to the pan with the onions and the garlic.
  5. When the courgettes have cooked for 3 minutes (you should be stirring), add the tomatoes and all their juice (but not the seeds). Stir well and season with salt and black pepper.
  6. After 2 minutes, add the glass or so of white wine (or chicken stock if you do not wish to use wine). Simmer very very gently until the courgette/zucchini is cooked through and the liquid has been absorbed. Keep this mixture warm. (You can freeze this in batches for use later.)
  7. Cook your pasta in the usual way, depending on whether you are using dried or fresh (don’t forget to salt the cooking water).
  8. Serve on warmed plates, with the vegetables divided between the servings, topped with a knob of butter, grated parmesan cheese, and lots of torn or chopped fresh basil.

A word about Parmesan: it is expensive, I know, but it is useful to keep a well wrapped chunk in your fridge and grate a little each time you do a pasta dish. You can also shave it on top of salads. There is just no comparison between freshly grated good quality parmesan and the stuff sold in little packets. Try it, you’ll see the difference.

Bon appétit.

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