I am currently:
- bored to death of my sleeping bag coat
- trawling through travel websites for an elusive sunny getaway
- ordering English lavender, chillies and chives from Seed Savers Exchange hoping this will only make spring come sooner
- reading Barbara Kingsolver's excellent Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and wishing I could exchange my roof deck for a vegetable garden
- feverishly cooking my way through Jamie Oliver's "winter" section of Jamie at Home
I feel that if I can make it through the weekend, I might just show February who's boss.
My final bullet-point brings me to a lovely little pasta dish that is easily conjured, even on a weeknight. My refrigerator has been bursting at the seams with leeks. I cleaned, trimmed and sliced them into submission last night, braised them in wine, vegetable stock and topped them with Parma ham to make a savory, lip-smacking pasta sauce.
Jamie uses fresh lasagna sheets to make a cheat's pappardelle, but I didn't have any in, so I used linguini. This is also called slow-braise, but it only takes 30 minutes. Hooray!
The key to this "slap-you-round-the-face" flavor, as Jamie calls it, is not only the marriage of leeks, pork, wine and garlic, but the toasted bread crumb and porcini mushroom topping. This is called pangrattato, or a bread crumb topping in Italian. Toasted with garlic and rosemary in a hot pan, this crunchy, earthy finish sets the whole dish on fire. It might just be warm enough to chase February away.
Pasta with Slow-Braised Leeks and Crispy Porcini Pangrattato
Adapted from "Jamie at Home" by Jamie Oliver
5 big leeks, trimmed and washed
3 tbsp of butter
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
a few sprigs of fresh thyme leaves
a small wineglass of white wine
sea salt and black pepper
2 cups of good quality vegetable or chicken stock
12 slices of Parma ham or other local alternative
1 pack of dried linguine noodles OR 1 pack of fresh lasagna sheets
2 handfuls of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
for the pangrattato
a small handful of dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 a ciabatta bread, preferably stale and cut into chunks
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
a sprig of fresh rosemary
Halve the leeks lengthways and cut them at an angle in 1/2 inch slices. Heat a wide saucepan and add a splash of olive oil and 1 tbsp of butter. When you hear a gentle sizzle, add the garlic, thyme leaves and leeks. Move them around so every piece is coated in the oil. Pour in the wine, season with pepper and stir in the stock. Lay the slices of ham over the leeks and cover with a lid. Cook gently for 25-30 minutes. Once the leeks are tender, take the pan off the heat.
Make the pangrattato by whizzing the mushrooms and bread together with a little salt and pepper in a food processor- it should be the consistency of breadcrumbs when you're done. Head a generous glug of olive oil in a pan and add the rosemary and garlic cloves. Let them cook for a minute, infusing all of their beautiful flavor into the oil. Add the breadcrumbs and fry until golden and crispy, turning regularly and being careful not to burn. Remove them and let them cool.
Cook your pasta according to the package- if you're using fresh, flour the lasagna sheets and cut the pasta into wide ribbons and cook in boiling salted water for 2 minutes.
Remove the Parma ham from the leek saucepan and slice it up then stir it back into the leeks. Season it (mine needed some salt at this point, but not too much) and then add the rest of the butter and the Parmesan. When the pasta is finished, add it to the sauce with a little cooking water. Serve it hot with the pangrattato sprinkled on top and some fresh thyme leaves.
Leave the rest of the topping on the side so people can help themselves.