RAGOÛT OF PASTA LE NORD

        And this is a slightly modified version of a “nouvelle” pasta served us at Le Nord in Lyon, 1984. It originally included string beans which I’ve decided are a “non contributing” element here, to borrow a term from my wife’s architectural history reports. Frankly, this ragoût with its pretty pool of orange, green and white seems more Berkeleyesque than Lyonnais.

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        Of course when we’re in Lyon, a city I’m much fonder of than many Americans, we always take a crash course in the “real local thing” as old Henry James might have put it: tripe one way or another, herring salads, sausages galore. Lyon specialties are muscular stuff, stevedores of the menu. Patti Unterman, astute doyenne of American dining critics, says eating in Lyon reminds her of digging into the hearty fare of Chicago — the details of the menu may be different (I don’t think tripe is in yet on North Dearborn), but both cities are trenchermen’s territory for sure.

        But Chicago doesn’t have the Three Rivers. I heard that old line my first dinner in Lyon, forty-five years ago, a snowy January when Place Bellecoeur looked like an abandoned stage set: the waiter in the empty dining room of the Royal Hotel couldn’t have been jollier as he intoned, bottle in hand, “You know, there are three rivers here, the Rhône, the Saône — and (pouring now from the bottle of Guess What) Beaujolais!”

        It was next to the second of these attractions, along the world’s greatest farmers’ market, the one on the Quai St-Antoine, that I had my chance to play Cartier-Bresson. Camera in hand, walking with teenage tower-climbing son, I spied, just ahead, a neatly mustachioed octogenarian gentleman, top-coated and mufflered, a retired accountant perhaps, newspaper in arm, beret almost halo-like on his quintessentially Gallic head, looking intently on many baskets of flowers lined up for his inspection.

        Widower, or wife at home? Happy, or sad? Well, he was a sort of Everyman, but a very, very French-looking one. And the republics and non-republic he’d lived through . . . I snapped quickly, and now Monsieur St-Antoine has a second home next to our front door in a San Francisco Victorian.

         Read, if you get the chance, the vintage Francophile Richard Cobb on hilly Lyon. He writes about enchantments like the “multitude of tiny squares perched perilously on some diminutive pocket handkerchief of level ground.”

 

Cut a peeled carrot into thin slices and steam them; cut several slices of coppa into thin strips; then warm the coppa with the carrot slices in a rather generous amount of butter with dill weed.

Meanwhile boil a little less than 1/2 a pound of pasta shells and drain them in a colander; also, heat gently 2 cups of chicken broth combined with a 1/2 cup of cream (or crème fraîche) and topped with some chopped fresh basil.

Toss the warmed veg/coppa rounds-and-juliennes with the pasta and some grated dry jack or parmesan cheese, then fill soup bowls about halfway with the broth/cream and ease in the pasta/veg/coppa. Give each ragoût-eater a fork and spoon to fish the goodies from their minestran lily pond.

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