My CSA sends out an email on Mondays letting us know what’s in our pickup the next day, so I’ve taken to meal planning for the week based on what I’ll be getting the next day. I saw leeks on the list for that first week and I knew right away what to make with them.
For the past few years, I’ve taken to making a simple spring dish of spaghetti with sautéed leeks, fresh parsley, and parmesan cheese. It’s incredibly simple to make and is redolent of spring with its verdant color and flavor.
This year, I decided to make the meal a little more substantial by adding small white beans to the mix for some protein and creaminess. The beans I used were from Cayuga Organics, and, once cooked, they were light years beyond canned beans – they actually had a distinct flavor, and the texture was creamy yet slightly firm, a far cry from the metallic mush of canned white beans. For this dish, I would actually omit the beans if you can’t use freshly cooked ones – because the beans aren’t simmered in a flavored liquid (thereby masking any metallic-ness and also rendering them soft anyhow), but are added to the dish at the last minute and meant to stand out, only fresh beans will do. But don’t worry – the dish is still wonderful without them.
Rounding out the mix was fresh pasta from the Piemonte Ravioli Company in Little Italy. When the weather is nice, I like to take a walk to Little Italy or Chinatown (both of which are near my office) and pick up fresh ingredients for dinner, which is precisely what I did for this dish. If you can’t get your hands on fresh pasta, a good brand of dried will do just as well.
Fettucine with Leeks, White Beans, and Parsley
3 big or 4 medium leeks (approximately 1 pound)
1 head young garlic or 1 large garlic clove
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 dried red chilies
10-15 grape tomatoes or 1 ripe plum tomato
1 cup cooked small white beans
1 pound fettucine (or any other long pasta), preferably fresh
1 tablespoon high-quality extra virgin olive oil
½ cup chopped parsley
1 ounce parmigiano-reggiano cheese, shaved (optional)
Trim the roots off the leeks and cut off the hard green leaves (I save these in the freezer for vegetable stock). Cut the leeks in half lengthwise, then slice them about 1/8” thick. Wash the leeks in at least two changes of water to get rid of all the grit and dry them well. (I found that my CSA leeks were nearly pristine – one wash was all I needed).
If using young garlic, peel the outer layer of skin off the clove. Gently crush each clove and slip the clove out of the soft skin. If using regular garlic, peel the clove and smash it.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. In the meantime, add the olive oil to a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Lightly crush the chiles and add them to the hot oil along with the garlic and cook until the garlic turns light brown. (At this point you can remove both the chilies and garlic from the oil, but I prefer to keep them in.) Lower the heat to medium, add the leeks and a few pinches of salt, and cook for 10 minutes.
While the leeks are cooking, use a small paring knife to cut an X into the bottom end of each tomato. Drop them into the boiling water and blanch for 1 minute. Remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and transfer to an ice bath (cold water + ice in a large bowl). Let the tomatoes sit for 1 minute, then peel them, cut them into quarters, and set aside. Add them to the pan after the leeks have cooked for 10 minutes and cook another 3-4 minutes, crushing the tomatoes once they are soft.
Return the water in the large pot to a boil and add salt. Cook the fettucine until it is a little shy of al dente. Lower the heat under the skillet to medium-low. Use tongs to transfer the fettucine to the skillet (the heat should still be on) and toss well to combine. (Alternately, you can drain the fettucine in a colander, making sure to reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water.) Add the 1 tablespoon olive oil, a little more salt, most of the parsley, and about ½ cup of the cooking water, and toss to combine. Cook for 1 minute, adding more cooking water (if necessary) to form a light sauce
Top each serving with the remaining parsley and the shaved cheese.