Braised Leeks with Pappardelle & Parmesan
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When braised, leeks release a ton of water, which causes them to shrink and become meltingly tender. When braised with white wine, olive oil, a little butter, and thyme, they emerge swimming in an especially fragrant broth, which can be used as a base for soup, as a sauce for pasta, or a side dish to roast chicken (or any number of meats).
Ronna Welsh, author of The Nimble Cook, where I discovered this recipe, has other ideas, too: chop them up and stuff them into a quiche, layer them on a sandwich, toss them with shaved cabbage for a salad, use them as a flavoring in pork meatballs. I’m eager to try spreading them atop pizza or focaccia.
This is the spirit of The Nimble Cook, which emphasizes ingredients and techniques more than recipes (though there are plenty of recipes to guide you along). Ronna’s goal is to give you building blocks, which when you have on hand, allow you to be nimble in the kitchen. Throughout the book, she offers lots of tips on how to prep foods so they are easier to cook when you are pressed for time. She also tells you how best to store the foods as well as how long the foods will last in that state. So helpful.
Highlights From The Nimble Cook:
- Ronna’s dedication to using every part of everything. This woman does not like waste. For this recipe for instance, she offers a recipe for blanched leek greens, which you can then use to make dill-and-leek-greens pesto or creamed leek greens or leek greens cream cheese. She also has a recipe for cucumber-peel kimchi, and one for white watermelon-rind gazpacho.
- Simple preparations that transform ingredients. When the book first arrived, I made her shaved collard salad every day for a week: In short, it calls for tossing (but not massaging!) thinly sliced collard greens with a little salt and sugar (interesting, right?), letting them sit for 10 minutes, then tossing them with a sharp vinaigrette. When I think collards, I think: braised for hours with bacon and vinegar. This preparation was so refreshing.
- Interesting techniques. In her recipe for the pasta with braised leeks, she calls for adding savory ricotta custard, which is a recipe she developed to double the shelf life of fresh ricotta, which is highly perishable. In short, you mix the ricotta with eggs and pecorino, and bake it. Once cooled, it can be sliced and used on sandwiches, crumbled into pasta, served on a cheese plate, or served as a dessert with compote. Cool, right?
Braised Leeks with Pasta: A Few Tips
- You can use any long noodle here — spaghetti, linguine, bucatini — but if you can find pappardelle, use it! It’s such a fun shape for this dish because the shape of the leeks mimic the shape of the noodle, and the two tangle so nicely together. I found this Culinary Tours brand at the Nisky Co-op, and I really liked it, and when I went back the next day, they were out! So stock up.
- Be sure to use only the whites and very light green parts of the leeks. The green parts, even after 50 minutes in the oven, are very hard to chew.
- If you are making the braised leeks to serve as a side dish, trim off only the very end of the root so that the leeks still stay intact once quartered. When prepping the leeks to be used for the pasta, trim off the root completely, so that the leeks do not stay intact — it helps them tangle with the noodles more easily.
- Start to finish, I would say this takes about an hour, but it’s a meal in itself — no side dish necessary — and it tastes like spring.
That’s it! Braise some leeks! Boil some noodles! Toss them together! Call dinner done.
If you have the space, I can’t recommend enough this 20-qt bowl. For soaking greens and other produce from the farm share, the little bowls just don’t do the job.