Tuesday, April 28, 2009
PASTA WITH BACON, LEEKS, AND MUSHROOMS
I have a lot of good pasta recipes. Enough, in fact, to make a different pasta recipe every week for a year. So I don’t acquire new ones lightly—they have to be pretty different from any in my archives if they’re going to make the cut. This one lured me because it has leeks. You may have noticed that I’m on a leek kick lately, and that keyword in a recipe title is enough to make me take a second look. Then, of course, there was the bacon, which would make it an instant winner with A. And I do like mushrooms, and wouldn’t necessarily have thought to put them with bacon and leeks. Most importantly, I had a few tablespoons of crème fraiche in the fridge just begging for a purpose.
Even though I like all the ingredients, I had an irrational fear that this pasta would be bland. (As if anything containing bacon has ever been bland. Ever ever. If it has, I don’t want to know about it.) I think, subconsciously, I was influenced by the pasta shell shape, not one of my favorites. I know all pasta shapes technically taste the same, but at some point in my cooking history I must have made a disappointingly bland dish involving pasta shells, and now I am prejudiced against them. Or at least, I was, until I tasted this pasta. It is simply delicious. It might be my new favorite pasta. I would like to make it again, right now. Something about the interplay between the smokiness of the bacon, the sweetness of the leeks, the earthiness of the mushrooms, and the saltiness of the cheese is just right. The crème fraiche provides a subtle, but not overwhelming, creaminess. And I actually, actively liked the texture of the pasta shells, and the perfect way they scooped up the little bits of bacon and leek. I really, really recommend this one.
I first saw this recipe at A Good Appetite, where it was scaled to serve two. It had been adapted from the original recipe by Gordon Ramsay (for whom I have an unjustifiable affection based on his TV shows, even though I don’t usually like shouty people and have never until now tasted any of his food), which was scaled to serve four and measured in grams in the European manner. So I had to do a bit of math and improvisation to create a version that would use a whole pound of pasta; as I’ve mentioned before, I have no use for recipes that use less, since I adore pasta leftovers—that is, the cooked, tasty kind waiting in the fridge to be eaten, not the uncooked half-empty box of noodles cluttering up my cabinet. I fudged the proportions a bit here and there, but was really happy with the result. This is an easy and pretty forgiving recipe. The only major change I made was not using olive oil—the original recipe calls for the bacon/pancetta to be cooked in 3 or 4 tablespoons of oil, which seems ridiculous to me, considering that most bacon (real bacon, anyway) is capable of rendering plenty of fat on its own. I just browned my bacon in an empty pan as usual, and it produced more than enough tasty, bacony grease to sauté my leeks and mushrooms in. Then, just to make sure the sauce wasn’t too dry, I added in some reserved pasta water at the end. The completed dish was the perfect consistency; I didn’t miss the extra oil whatsoever. Certainly 4 tablespoons would have made things too oily, so if you want to try the oil, I’d still recommend just 1 tablespoon or so. If you’re using fake bacon or turkey bacon or some other inferior product, maybe use 2 tablespoons oil.
1 pound medium pasta shells
Olive oil (optional)
4 ounces (about 4 thick slices) bacon, roughly chopped
3 large leeks, white and light green sections, sliced thin
8 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons creme fraiche
1 large handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Freshly grated Parmesan to taste
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for cooking the pasta.
2. Meanwhile, add the bacon to a large skillet and cook over medium-high heat until beginning to crisp. (If you like, you can heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet before adding the bacon, but I don’t think it’s necessary unless you’re using a low-fat version of bacon.)
3. Add the leeks and mushrooms to the skillet and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 6–8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. When the pasta water boils, add the shells and cook until al dente. Before draining the pasta, reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and add to the skillet. Stir in the creme fraiche and some of the reserved pasta water (a few tablespoons at a time until your sauce reaches its desired consistency). Stir in parsley and serve sprinkled with Parmesan.
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: High. I ate it for lunch three days in a row last week. In fact, I wish I had some right now.