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.
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:
MOI'S LEEK PASTA
To serve four:
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.