Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Culinary THROW DOWN: Leeks

For the first Culinary Throw Down of 2010, intrepid participant, and last challenge’s winner, Allison, chose the theme: LEEKS.

It’s only been in the past decade or so that leeks have started to put in regular appearances in American grocery markets. Maybe it’s because we have the green onion? I don’t know, but I do know that when I was traveling in France, these babies were as ubiquitous as rude sales girls and grabby men. Well, that was in Paris at least. By the time I got to the easy-breezy, sun-soaked Cote d’Azur, I was all, Phew. Looks like I won’t have to write off the entire country after all. For if ever God created a place outside the U.S. of A. I could dig wholeheartedly, the South of France is IT, baybeeeee.

Juh tem the South of France.

Anyway, bottom line is that I ate a lot of stuff with leeks. But once I got back home, not so much. In fact, I think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve cooked with leeks in the past, oh, forever. So this was a fun challenge.

A soup would certainly have been a good place to start – and most welcome as far as S.B. is concerned. Man loves him a soup, sammy, and salad dinner on a cold winter’s night. But I decided I to do a pasta dish instead, using spaghetti carbonara as my inspiration.

So, here you go:


To serve four:

2 leeks
12 ounces fresh mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup dry white wine, sherry, or chicken broth
8 ounces spaghetti or fettuccini (I think cream sauces adhere better to a slightly wider noodle)
½ cup hot cooking water from the spaghetti
½ cup chopped ham, bacon, or prosciutto
2 large eggs
½ cup cream
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
One good pinch of grated nutmeg
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
¼ cup chopped parsley

Fill a four-quart pot with water and set to boil. Trim leeks by cutting off a couple inches of their dark green tops (I like the taste of the green part of the leek - it's usually not tough and has a more delicate flavor than the white part), and the fuzzy rooty part of their bottoms. Rinse well under water. Then rinse and rinse some more. Dirt loves to hide in these suckers, so keep rinsing! Dry with paper towels, slice in half lengthwise, and chop into half inch pieces. Wash and slice mushrooms.

Heat oil and butter together in a large skillet (thus sayeth Julia Child: “Don’t crowd your mushrooms!”) Cook mushrooms and leeks until tender, but not mushy, about five or so minutes. Add wine, broth, or sherry, stirring to scrape up any browned bits, and continue cooking until liquid has evaporated. Add ham to the mixture, stir, cover, and keep warm.

As soon as water boils, add pasta and cook until al dente (to the tooth).

While spaghetti cooks, in a large serving bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cheese. Set aside.

A minute or so before pasta is done cooking, scoop out a half-cup of the cooking water and add drop by drop to the bowl with the egg and cream mixture, stirring vigorously with a wire whisk to prevent the eggs from curdling. If you curdle, start over. A curdled carbonara sucks butt.

When all the hot water has been incorporated, drain the pasta. Shake, but do not rinse, and add immediately to the sauce, followed by the leek/mushroom/ham mixture. Toss, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and serve immediately with more grated cheese.

Verdict: Yummy! Even S.B. ate it, as chock-a-block full as it was with green vegetable-looking things. Next time, though, I think I’ll omit the ham and leave it as just a simple veggie pasta. The ham is certainly the most assertive of the ingredients and can get in the way of the delicate flavor of the leek – although there is something to be said for this contrast, too.


TROLL Y2K said...

Magnifico! Fabulisimo! Bravo! Having exhausted my supply of Eye-Talian words, I'll just say I'd LOVE to eat this with or without ham.

Does Carbonaro usually contain nutmeg?

Buzz Kill said...

That does look good. And there's a lot of leeks in there too. I like the idea of a leek carbonara. I think you need the ham (or bacon) in there to go with the egg/leek combination. Could you taste the nutmeg in there because I wouldn't have come up with that flavor pairing with the leeks?

I like the spaghetti tongs in the bowl. We have a similar set only in stainless steel. When we use them, the boys and I are always doing our best Bruce Lee impersonations with them. The pudge was almost killed once.

Nice job and thanks for doing the judging yet again.

Big Shamu said...

Pasta, veggies and BACON. What's not to love.

I have to say I have not used leeks. It's not one of those things I find myself trying to incorporate more into my cooking like say greens or legumes. Although Boxer's idea of a draft stopper is pretty good.

LaDivaCucina said...

Hey Moi, your dish looks DEE-LISH! I think two little steps took your pasta to the next level: the nutmeg and sherry. YUM!

I would have thought the parsley to be too strong of a flavor? I would do this dish with pancetta.

Geez, La Diva had company over last night and is feeling a bit, er, "delicate" and I can't tell you how good your pasta would go down right about now!!

I can't believe that Sham never cooks with leeks? Am I the only one? (loved your story about zee south of France)

Good job!!! I'm up.

Boxer said...

Wow! Very pretty dish (and that includes the cool bowl, too) and with S.B.'s seal of approval, it's a winner.

BTW?...... "these babies were as ubiquitous as rude sales girls and grabby men."

bwahahahahahah. Sooooo true.

Nicely done Judge Moi.

Allison said...


Someday I will go to the south of France. Or anywhere in France so I can eat endless amounts of cheese, bread and wine.

Nice job, Moi! And thank you for judging again!

Sandcastle Momma said...

That really looks delicious and definitely something for a cold night!

moi said...

Troll: No, a carbonara does not contain nutmeg, but I read somewhere that nutmeg bolsters the flavor of leeks.

Buzz: Huh. I'm pondering your defense now: "But officer, we were PLAYING! I can't help it if the kid took it seriously."

Shamu: The heck you say? I'da thought you'd have some Leek Wisdom to impart.

La Diva: I seem to be immune to the taste of parsley, but yes, you are right. S.B. always notices it right off.

Boxer: And the funny thing about zee French men? They think they are hot, but nine times out of ten, non, they are not. If God had been on the ball that day, He would have given the Swedes the pinchy fingers.

Allison: Ooooo, girl, I put on a gazillion pounds from the cheese alone. A pesky people, but man, they can COOK.

Sandcastle Mama: Yes, most definitely falls in the realm of cold winter night comfort food!

fishy said...

Looks like you and Aunty are both French inspired chefs today. Blowfish, who has pasta withdrawal symptoms every third day, would love for me to make this for him. Maybe I will get him to try ... you make it seem achievable!
What an interesting challenge, I will look forward to the judging.
Blessings on you this Epiphany of 2010.

Kymical Reactions said...

I am so surprised with myself with how many of these dishes look absolutely devine! I am adding this, too, to my list of dishes to make. mmmmm.

Making Space said...

I would eat that. You had me at cream. I would prolly dump the cream on the pasta and eat it like that. Yerclassy.

moi said...

Fishy: It's kind of a time consuming dish, but definitely yummy. Give it a try!

Kym: Yes, everyone came through spectacularly on this challenge. NINE folks in all!

Making Space: I once had a vision. I died and went to heaven and St. Peter was all, "Okay, my child, what would YOU like for eternity?" And I was all, "An endless supply of crap magazines and all the pork and butter fat I can eat with no deposits on my thighs, hips, or butt. Amen."

moi said...

Whoops. TEN. I mean TEN people participated. I think that's an unprecedented number . . .

Boxer said...

and do you know why 10 participated?

Your write ups.


Pam said...

Several dishes to show to my chef! His idea of leaks is thrown in with the pot roast, but he is very traditional. Meanwhile, TOTALLY AGREE re South of France. My sister-in-law lives there. We've been to see her once. And started immediately planning for the next visit. Totally incredible place. Didn't run into any French men -- we run with the Brits.

Joanna Cake said...

Excellent work! Id have enjoyed either version :)