Tuesday, October 12, 2004


Mmmm, leeks. This is very leeky pasta—not much else to it, really. Naturally, the recipe is from Pasta e Verdura, my source for out-of-the-ordinary vegetable pasta dishes. I’ve made it a number of times, although this wasn’t the most shining example of it. I discovered I didn’t have any parsley and had to make do with basil, which was OK, but not the same: more bitter, less bright. Also, it really bugs me how little leek pieces are capable of getting strewn everywhere in my kitchen. Still, this was tasty—the sweet onionyness of the leeks is perfect with the dry tartness of the wine. Lots of elegance for very little effort.

Can I just voice a pet peeve here, which is that recipes often call for freshly ground pepper in specific quantities? What am I supposed to do, grind it into a teaspoon to measure it? (Yes, I guess so.) Usually I just grind what looks like enough directly into the dish. This time, however, I noticed this recipe calls for ½ teaspoon pepper, whereas most seem to ask for only ¼ teaspoon. So I shelved the pepper grinder, brought out a container of preground pepper, measured out ½ teaspoon, and boy howdy that’s a lot more pepper than I would ever have thought to add on my own. And I’m glad I did it that way, because the end result tasted nice and peppery, which helped balance out the leeks.

4 medium leeks (about 2 pounds)
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1 pound penne pasta
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot for cooking the pasta.

2. While the water is heating, trim the dark green tops, the root ends, and the tough outer layers from the leeks, then cut each one in half lengthwise. Wash the leeks under cold running water, gently spreading apart (but not separating) the layers to remove all traces of soil. (I enjoy cleaning leeks, because you can see the dirt come right off. You have to be thorough, though, as there’s nothing grosser than gritty leeks.) Set the leeks on the cutting board and slice them crosswise into very thin strips.

3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the leeks when the oil is warm, and sauté them over medium heat until they're completely wilted. (The recipe says this should take about 10 minutes, but I probably let it go a little longer, as I dislike the squeakiness of undercooked leeks. But the leeks shouldn’t start to brown—if they do, reduce the heat. I've also found that it's helpful to cover the leeks, which allows them to steam and get really tender.)

4. When the pasta water boils, pour in the penne and cook until al dente.

5. When the leeks are suitably wilted, pour in the wine, the salt, and the pepper. Simmer over low heat until the aroma of the wine fades and the sauce thickens a bit, about 5 minutes, and then stir in the parsley.

6. Drain the pasta when it's cooked, mix it with the leek sauce, add the grated cheese, and serve.

Serves: 6
Time: 30-40 minutes

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