An unusual sauce made from perfectly familiar ingredients. Gently flavored with fresh leeks, dreamy for pasta.
"Made it, ate it, loved it! ... deliciously easy recipe." ~ Adam
Have you ever had a dress – a plain dress – that just wears so easily, fits so comfortably, you wear it again and again?
That's how this oh-so-plain-looking plate of pasta strikes me: from its looks, there's no telling how gentle leek flavor drapes itself onto the pasta, hugging the legs and arms in all the right places; how it's something entirely new, and at the same time comfortable and familiar; how when the first pot was gone, I couldn't wait to copy the pattern and make another.
The technique is simple and it's all about the leek. The result isn't 'oniony' at all, it's quite creamy. In fact, truly, will I ruin the dreaminess of this dish by suggesting that – despite using only 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a single ounce of cheese – it's got an essence of mac 'n' cheese that makes me want to make a double or triple batch, plop it into a casserole dish, top it with bread crumbs and throw it in the oven for 30 minutes?
LEEK SAUCE for PASTA is adapted from Red, White and Greens: The Italian Way with Vegetables by Faith Willinger. My friend Anne from Kitchen Conservatory lent this cookbook some months ago, vowing that the leek sauce was a "must make". Was she ever right! I've now ordered my own copy, look for more recipes! By the way, congratulations to Kitchen Conservatory for being named St. Louis' best place to take a cooking class again!
LEEK SAUCE for PASTA
Time-to-table: 40 minutes
Makes 1-1/2 cups sauce, plenty for 8 ounces of pasta
- Big pot of well-salted water, enough for leeks and pasta both
- 3 large leeks, cleaned and trimmed (see how to clean leeks), yielding about 12 ounces white and light-green parts
- Zest of a lemon
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil (or another fresh herb, the inspiring recipe called for parsley, tarragon would be lovely)
- 2 tablespoons good olive oil
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 8 ounces penne pasta (see TIPS)
- 1 ounce grated Parmesan or another good cheese
Bring the water to a boil.
SAUCE After trimming, cut the leeks in half lengthwise. (Check for grit, they might need another rinse.) Drop the leek pieces into the boiling water and cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Remove the leeks from the water with a slotted spoon and rinse quickly under cold water to stop the cooking. Squeeze gently to remove the excess water.
In a food processor, combine the cooked leeks, lemon zest, basil, olive oil until soft and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
PASTA As soon as the leeks are cooked, return the water to a boil. Cook the pasta until about 3/4 done. Scoop about 2 cups of leek water out of the pot, then drain the pasta.
COMBINE In the same pot used for cooking the pasta, combine the leek sauce and partially cooked pasta. Cook on quite high heat, stirring often, until the pasta finishes cooking, adding pasta water, 1/4 cup at a time, when the sauce gets dry. The sauce should coat the pasta but still be slightly liquid since the cheese will thicken it. Add the Parmesan and cook for just another minute. Serve immediately.
• Step 2 | Cut the stalk in half, lengthwise. Gently separate the whorls, still keeping the stalk intact with your fingers. Wash the stalk under running water, letting water stream between the whorls. If the leek is particularly gritty, soak the whorls for a few minutes, then rinse again.
• Step 3 | Now take a look at the big section of dark leaves set aside. If you peel back a layer or two of these dark leaves, you'll find still more white and light-green parts. Chop this up and use it for cooking, too.
• Make stock now! | Wash the set-aside heavy outer leaves and the dark green leaves to make a very simple leek stock. For a more traditional stock, drop the leek leaves into water with a rib or two of celery, a carrot, a few peppercorns and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain and use for soup or any recipe calling for vegetable or even chicken stock. The stock can be frozen, too.
• Make stock later! | If you don't have time to make stock right away, let the leaves dry, then toss into a freezer bag.
More Recipes Calling for Leeks
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