Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Penne with Leeks and Porcini


I've always thought that leeks are the most sophisticated member of the onion family. Silky in texture they have a sweet and subtle flavour and eat well across the whole gamut of simply steamed with a little butter and pepper to nestling under a blanket of cheese sauce, they go well with many things - dairy, potatoes, spices. Pale and bright they always add pleasure to a meal.

Relished throughout Europe they have been cultivated for so long that their beginnings are uncertain though they are strongly associated with Wales. Phoenician traders introduced the leek to Wales when they engaged in the tin trade in the British Isles - a casual act that would unexpectedly elevate this humble plant to national status.

On St David's Day in 2007 Prince Charles, accompanied by Camilla, visited Bosnia and presented leeks to all Officers and also men of the Prince of Wales's Company, while Camilla gave leeks to No 2 Company, No 3 Company and Headquarter Company. Soldiers from Princess Irene's Guards, a Dutch Guards Regiment who were raised in Wales in 1941 and Bulgarian troops at MNTF NW also received leeks. Imagine their excitement! I confess the idea amuses me - the royal couple weighed down with hundreds of leeks progressing slowly past soldiers stiffened in welcome handing leeks out one at a time which those in uniform presumably accepted straight faced. Pomp and leek.
Still it is at least a useful gift. If they put them all together they'd have done worse to have ended up with this pasta dish for their supper that night to celebrate in style. It is a version of a richly scented dish in the ever useful - and sophisticated - River Cafe Pasta Book.

Penne with Leeks and Porcini
350g penne - the book recommends pappardelle but I had none and the penne worked well
500g leeks, peeled of their outer layer and cut on the diagonal to match the penne
50g dried porcini, soaked in 150ml hot water for 30 minutes
50 g unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tbspns thyme leaves
50g Parmesan, freshly grated
Olive oil

Drain the porcini, keeping back the soaking water. Rinse the now soft porcini in a sieve under running water to remove any grit, then chop roughly. Strain the soaking liquid through two sheets of kitchen paper in a sieve to get rid of all the grit.

Heat 2 tbspns oil and half the butter in a heavy pan and add the garlic, cooking till soft. Stir in the porcini and fry for 1 minute then add a little of the porcini water to keep them moist, adding more as the liquid is absorbed. Cook for 20 minutes then season.

In a separate pan heat another 2 tbspns oil and the rest of the butter. When hot add th leeks and the thyme. Season and stir-fry briefly, add 3 tbspns of boiling water then cook over a high heat for about 5 minutes until the liquid is reduced. Add the porcini to the leeks and toss together. Check seasoning.
Cook the pasta till al dente, drain and add to the sauce. Stir in the Parmesan and a little more butter if desired then serve.

This was a remarkably rich and sumptuous dish, good cold next day - cold as in room temperature not fridge cold. It worked because summer has brought no heat with it but I think it would be even more amazing late autumn when the light has gone.

1 comment:

Sarah-82 said...

Throw in some diced up pancetta...Heaven!