We Americans don’t tend to eat many leeks, typically using onion and garlic as our primary alliums. However, leeks are delicious and relatively easy to grow, with the added benefit that some varieties do particularly well when left in the ground over the winter. When you grow your own, you can either plant them in a trough and fill in the trough as they grow, or heap dirt over the stalks as they grow to yield the white and light green parts of the stems.
In addition to pasta dishes like this, leeks are often added to soups and stews; braised, creamed, and gratineed; and eaten in tarts, risotto, and egg dishes. The simplest way to prepare a leek is to trim the dark green part and the roots off, and then slice the leek vertically in half. Wash the leek well after slicing in half. Leeks are often grown in sandy soil, so slicing open the layers makes it easy to rinse out any grit. If the recipe only calls for the white part, you can save the light green section to use raw in salads or as a mild substitute for onion.
This is one of those dishes where you don’t really need a recipe– just an outline of the idea. Feel free to play with the ratio of leek to pasta, or add other vegetables. Mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, briney black olives, or artichokes all might be interested options.
Caramelized Leeks over Pasta
1/2 large leek
Handful of shaped pasta
Nubbin of butter
Springs of parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste
Optional: Chopped fennel, a little
Boil water for the pasta. When it boils, cook the pasta as directed on the package.
Wash the leek as described above. Slice horizontally into half moons. Heat a saute pan over medium heat and add the butter. When the butter in melted, add the chopped leek. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until the pieces just begin to brown. If using the fennel, add it now. Reduce the heat to low, add the garlic, and cook for about 20 more minutes, or until the leeks are caramelized. Add the parsley, salt, and pepper.