Jamie loves his veggies especially given that his show is centered around his garden. Occasionally I fall in love with vegetables myself. There was the year that I started cooking Brussel sprouts and amassed quite a repertoire of sprouts recipes that never failed to impress my guests. I would then regale them with how much this poor vegetable has been abused if all one remembers is boiled frozen sprouts from one's youth. My sister's then boyfriend who grew up hating sprouts himself had a transformative experience when I served him roasted sprouts with chili powder. The outer layers had become so crisp that they most reminded me of chili fried potatoes and I'm not lying. Another year after buying a 5 pound head of cauliflower at the farmers market and using it to make cauliflower soup, it was another light bulb moment as I felt as though I was tasting this typically bland white vegetable for the first time, which brings me back to my mantra: so many recipes, so little time!
And now, the leeks. They're great grilled, braised or as the base for soup. Who would have thought that something from the alium family could yield so many possiblities? But then thinking about onions themselves, they are also delicous in the same way as leeks, perhaps with just a bit more bite. Leeks don't have nearly as much of the sulfur compounds that form sulfuric acid and make you cry. In Japan, leeks are the preferred "onion," and what we think of as onions are basically called "round leeks." When combined with wine and stock as in this recipe, leeks yield a unique flavor that is so soft and subtle, no wonder the first step in the French Women Don't Get Fat regimen is a weekend of leek broth!
Readers of this blog know that I am mad about braising, the slow cooking method that tenderizes whatever is being cooked even as it maximizes and concentrates flavor. I've also adopted the technique advocated in my first ever braised ribs recipe as well as by my braising maven Molly Stevens of placing a layer of parchment just above the top of the food being cooked to trap steam and condensation closest to the food. Rather than use parchment, in this recipe Jamie Oliver uses thinly sliced prosciutto to the same effect. The prosciutto will shrink as it cooks so it won't form a completely intact layer, but needless to say, the flavor of the prosciutto will meld with the leeks. This was the part of the recipe that stopped me in my tracks with my jaw agape. It was just so simple and delicious looking! Jamie said that the Italian chef he learned the recipe from would discard the prosciutto after it had done its work, but Jamie makes it part of the dish and why the hell not?
And finally the pangrattato, which my online dictionary translates as "bread crumbs." I believe it was Mario Batali on a food network episode who once said that in lean times Italians used crisped up bread crumbs as a substitute for grated parmesan or some other hard cheese. A layer of crispy bread crumbs atop mac 'n' cheese, roasted cauliflower, or even meatloaf just adds that right bit of crunch to give a dish just the right finish. Jamie jazzes this dish up with some pulverized dried poricini which add an earthy note to the bread crumbs. And as I am taking part this week in Eating Down the Fridge/Pantry, I was happy to make use of a package of dried porcinis that had been bought on sale who knows when! My method for preparing the pangrattato differs from Jamies only in that I whiz the bread crumbs, garlic and mushrooms in the food processor with the olive oil so that the oil is evenly distributed. I then cook the whole mixture in a hot saute pan, the same one that will subsequently be used for the leek braise.
And one more thing before I get to the recipe. This recipe made me want to break out my hand crank pasta machine that I received as a gift more than 15 years ago. Jamie recommends cutting fresh lasagne sheets into pappardelle, but I've never seen fresh lasagne sheets for sale and making fresh pasta in the food processor is one of those things that I learned to do long ago that I'd put aside for a decade or so. Now it's back in the mix though I confess I want to replace my hand crank pasta maker with the Kitchen Aid version! Jamie reasons that making the dish with fresh pasta allows you to create a dish that's more personal (and of course) more impressive than using store bought pappardelle or some other noodle. But homemade pasta is one of those things you can make once and get a couple of meals out of by dividing the dough and freezing half of it. The second half of my pasta dough will be used to make fettuccine for some dinner guests who will be dining on chicken alla parmagiana when they come over later this week.
Pappardelle with Braised Leeks and Prosciutto with Crispy Porcini Pangrattato
Adapted from Jamie Oliver
Serves 4 to 6
For the Pangrattato:
1 small handful dried porcini mushrooms [I used all of a 1.4 ounce package]
1/2 ciabatta bread, preferably stale, cut into chunks [I pulled out two whole wheat hamburger buns from my freezer that I wanted to get rid of as part of Eating Down the Fridge]
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed [I didn't crush mine as I minced them in the food processor with the bread crumbs]
1 sprig fresh rosemary [I roughly chopped the rosemary and pulverized with the bread crumbs]
For the main event:
5 big leeks, outer leaves trimmed back, cut in to half inch pieces, and washed well
2 good knobs butter, divided [I used 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter]
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
A few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked
A small wineglass white wine
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pint good-quality vegetable or chicken stock
12 slices ham, preferably Parma
2 (8-ounce) packages fresh lasagne sheets [I made homemade pasta using 4 eggs and used half the dough as a first step; 16 oz of dried pasta is a fine alternative also]
All-purpose flour, for dusting
2 handfuls freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
- Optional First Step: If making the pasta from scratch, in a food processor fitted with the steel blade place 400 grams of all-purpose flour and 4 large eggs. (According to Mario Batali, Italians make pasta from scratch this way using a ratio of one large egg for each 100 grams of flour. Two egg yolks can be substituted for one whole egg, which I did to replace one of the eggs) Add a half teaspoon of salt and pulse to combine until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Stream in 1 to 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive until a ball of dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for a minute or two. Divide and wrap each half separately in plastic. Leave one piece to rest on the counter while you go about making the rest of the dish and refrigerate or freeze the other piece for later use.
- To make the pangrattato: Whiz the mushrooms and bread with a pinch of salt and pepper in a food processor until the mixture looks like bread crumbs. Heat a generous glug of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic cloves and the rosemary and cook for a minute, then fry the bread 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, discard the rosemary and garlic and allow the bread crumbs to cool. [The only thing I did differently when making the bread crumbs was I minced the garlic in the food processor. With the machine running, I dropped the garlic cloves into the food processor until finely minced. I then scraped down the bowl and added the cubed bread and dried mushrooms to pulverize. I streamed in a tablespoon of olive oil to moisten the crumbs and then added this mixture to the saute pan, no additional oil needed.]
- For the braised leeks: Wipe out the saute pan with a couple of paper towels and heat over medium high heat. Add the oil and 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. Cover the leeks with the slices of Parma ham, place a lid on the pan and simmer gently for 25 to 30 minutes. Once the leeks are tender, take the pan off the heat.
- For the pappardelle: Bring a big pot of salted water to the boil. Lay the lasagne sheets [or the rolled out pasta] on a clean working surface and sprinkle with a little flour. Place the sheets on top of each other and slice into 1/2-inch strips. Toss through your fingers to shake out the pappardelle, then cook in the boiling water 2 minutes or until al dente. [If using dried pasta, cook al dente according to package directions.]
- The finish: Remove the prosciutto from the saute pan, slice up and stir back into the leeks. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then stir in the Parmesan and the rest of the butter [I had a bit of crumbled gorgonzola to get rid of--Eating Down the Fridge--so I threw that in also]. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water, and add the pasta to the leeks. Add a little of the cooking water if need be, to give you a silky, smooth sauce. [I found that I had a lot of liquid still in the pan so I mixed in some bread crumbs to absorb the liquid.] Serve quickly, sprinkled with some pangrattato, extra Parmesan and any leftover thyme tips. Serve the rest of the pangrattato in a bowl on the side.