Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where is My Mind? - Pasta with Braised Leeks, Porcini Mushrooms and Breadcrumbs

Being a Capricorn, I have extreme anxiety over being late to any kind of occasion. I am the type to always show up at least 5 minutes early to things and I am not usually prone to forgetting when I'm supposed to be somewhere. Which is why I was completely befuddled to arrive out of breath from an ill-fated bike ride (involving several wrong turns-downhill) at rehearsal exactly as it ended on Saturday afternoon, and why the looks on my fellow actors faces were confused as well. I had written down noon-2pm instead of 10am-noon. Oops. Even with the wrong turns, I'd still arrive 10 minutes before I'd planned...which was, unfortunately, in actuality, one hour 45 minutes too late.

I'm not sure where my mind is these days. Even the task of memorizing lines, something that normally comes pretty easily to me, has been more illusive lately. I'm feeling the urge to hunker down with a good book (rather than with my lines, or the pile of laundry that I should be attending to) and procrastination is hovering over me in all areas it seems.

I can't even get it together to pull together a seriously ambitious recipe. When I opened the fridge yesterday the contents seemed disjointed and out of place. I had some fresh pasta that needed to be made that day, 3 large leeks, some prosciutto that also needed to be used up, a head of cauliflower, carrots and mustard greens. I fumbled around through old issues of Gourmet and Bon Appetit, looking for some kind of edible combination. I found a Jamie Oliver recipe online, pasta with braised leeks and Porcini mushrooms. I had a bag of dried mushrooms hanging out in the pantry, some bread and some thyme on the windowsill. Just a few tweaks to the recipe and it all came together nicely.

This is one I'll work on in the future. It's fairly economical and easy to pull together. Don't skimp on the garlic. The next time around, I'll use fresh mushrooms and maybe even some sherry. It came together beautifully, the breadcrumbs and mushrooms added a great texture. The flavors are fairly mild and earthy, which is why I think it's important to use ingredients that are fresh and in season.

Pasta with Braised Leeks, Porcini Mushrooms and Breadcrumbs

adapted from Jamie Oliver

3 large leeks, trimmed and washed
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
2 sprigs of thyme
A small wineglass of white wine
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup vegetable stock
2 slices prosciutto or good ham
1/2 lb pasta (I used fresh Porcini Pappardelle, plain fettuccine would also work well)
Parmesan for serving

For the mushrooms and breadcrumbs:

1 small handful dried mushrooms (I used Porcini)
1/2 loaf of country style bread, preferably stale, cut into chunks
salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced

*Update 10/22 - upon considering this recipe further and stumbling upon something similar from a Thomas Keller cookbook, I would add about 1 & 1/4 tsp red wine vinegar to the wine and stock when braising the leeks.

Halve the leeks lengthwise and slice into 1/2 inch pieces. Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan. When it starts to sizzle, add the garlic and leeks. Stir with a wooden spoon to coat each leek piece in butter. Add the wine, chicken stock, prosciutto and the salt and pepper. Heat a wide saucepan, add a splash of oil and a knob of butter, and when you hear a gentle sizzling add the sliced garlic, thyme leaves and leeks. Move the leeks around so every piece gets coated. Pour in the wine, season with pepper and stir in the stock. place a lid on the pan and cook gently for 25 to 30 minutes. Once the leeks are tender, take the pan off the heat.
While the leeks cook, pulse the bread, mushrooms, salt and pepper in a food processor until the whole mixture is breadcrumb like. Heat the olive oil in a sautee pan, add the garlic and sautee for one minute. Fry the crumbs in the oil until golden and crisp. Keep shaking the pan - don't let the bread crumbs catch on the bottom. Drain on paper towels and let the crumbs cool.

Next, cook the pasta in salted water according to the package directions.

Remove the Prosciutto from the saucepan, slice up and stir back into the leeks. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and then stir in the Parmesan. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water, and add the pasta to the leeks. Toss with the crumbs, and add a little of the cooking water if need be to make a sauce to coat the pasta. Serve while hot.


  1. Does the small glass of wine go in the dish or is that to calm the stress? I much prefer the latter when cooking.

  2. Drat, obviously that recipe should read as 2 glasses of wine, the first quite a bit larger than the second and to be used for drinking while cooking. It's so obvious!

  3. Awesome! I'm going to add a glass of wine to EVERY recipe!