The first time I encountered Jamie Oliver’s recipe for Cheat’s Pappardelle with Slow-Braised leeks and Crispy Porcini Pangrattato I was watching an episode of Cityline. Cityline is a Canadian talk-showesque program that features special guests, cooking, fashion, home decorating and the like. It’s an alright show, the kind you watch when there’s nothing else on and one that is more informative than entertaining – a revelation in the talk show genre. It features a lot of Canadian products, clothing that can be purchased from stores that are actually located in Canada, cooking segments that coincide with our seasons, and a great Canadian vibe that us Canucks can appreciate but may not be able to explain to non-Canadians. So, needless to say I was quite excited when I saw my boyfriend Jamie Oliver on Cityline.
On this particular episode, Jamie was publicizing his new cookbook at the time, Jamie at Home and made a visit to Toronto appearing as a guest on the show. He was his usual quirky self; acting like he had just downed ten Red Bulls, calling the host every term of endearment you can think of and exhibiting that infectious excitement he’s so famous for. The host (Marilyn Denis, the show’s current host is Tracy Moore) was pulling the classic, I am a female host and I am going to pretend – or not pretend – I know a single thing about what this guest is showing me. She looked sheepishly at Jamie when he asked her to stir the pan of leeks, frequently asking “Am I doing it right?” You’re stirring a pot lady, not performing surgery! This is one tactic that I find truly annoying about talk shows hosts. Does every talk show host know nothing about any of the techniques their guests share?
I suppose I am being a little hard on these hosts. It’s probably all a part of the mission of the show; the host has to pretend to not know anything because the viewer at home really does not know anything. Then when I thought about this it annoyed me even more; these producers are making the assumption that all of us viewers are completely ignorant and our ignorance is reflected in the perceived unknowigness of the talk show host and their unintelligible bantering with the guests. Ok, maybe I look into these things too much. Perhaps my critical analysis skills do get the better of me more often than not and its difficult for me to take things at face value, but am I wrong to feel that these types of shows just don’t give us enough credit?
Regardless of how day-time television producers perceive their viewers, I put my annoyance aside and enjoyed every minute of Jamie’s demonstration. Like all of his recipes, the simplicity and wholesomeness of this dish really appealed to me. Braised leeks that are softened in butter, simmered with prosciutto, tossed with fat strands of pasta and topped with crisp and earthy bread crumbs and porcini mushrooms, just called out to me. It begged to be recreated in my kitchen and savoured at my table and has been enjoyed seasonally for a few years now. When I see the plump leeks standing tall in my garden I cannot wait to pluck them out and turn them into something so magically simple but comfortingly complex – the combinations that Jamie Oliver is so very famous for. This is one is one to bookmark; to come back to and relish, time and time again.
Jamie’s Pappardelle with Leeks, Porcini and Pangrattato
Jamie Oliver’s original title from his Jamie at Home cookbook is called, “Cheat’s Pappardelle with Slow-Braised leeks and Crispy Porcini Pangrattato.” The “cheat’s” part of the title refers to cheating in making fresh pasta, by using store-bough fresh lasagne sheets. In the past, I always bought dried pappardelle – and you can to – because I didn’t like the selection of fresh pasta my grocery store carried. It was a commercial brand full of additives and preservatives. Recently, they started to carry an in-store made pasta that only contains eggs, flour and salt – just like nonna use to make! (See Sue, two “n’s”! ; ) ) Nothing beats fresh pasta, especially fresh homemade pasta, but this isn’t always available to us and many of us don’t have the time. Dried pasta of any kind works wonderfully with this dish, but if you can, choose a long, wide noodle variety.
Serves 4 to 6
4 to 5 big leeks, white and half of the green parts only, outer leaves trimmed back and washed very carefully
3 tablespoons butter and a splash of olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked off their stems
1 cup white wine
Salt and pepper
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
12 slices prosciutto
450 g (or one package) fresh lasagne sheets or dried pasta
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus extra for serving
1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 loaf stale ciabatta bread, crusts removed and cut into chunks
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
Halve the leeks lengthwise and cut into 1/2 inch slices. Over a medium-high flame, heat a wide, shallow saucepan and add 1 tablespoon of butter and a splash of olive oil. When you hear the butter beginning to sizzle, add the garlic thyme and leeks. Stir the leeks to coat and pour in the white wine and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 3 minutes before adding the stock. Cover the leeks with the prosciutto and place a lid over the saucepan and simmer gently for 20 to 25 minutes.
For the pangrattato, pulse the porcini and bread cubes in a food processor until you get coarse crumbs. In a medium-sized skillet, heat the olive oil with the garlic and thyme over medium heat. Brown the garlic and thyme for a few minutes to flavour the oil. Add the bread crumbs and toast, tossing frequently until lightly browned and crisp. Discard the rosemary and garlic and set bread crumbs aside to cool.
Bring a big pot of water to a boil. When it begins to bubble vigorously, season very generously with salt. Lay the lasagne on a clean working surface, dusted lightly with flour. Place sheets on top of each other and slice into 1/2 inch strips. Toss through your fingers to loosen the pappardelle and cook in the boiling water for 2 minutes. Be careful not overcook or it will become pasty. Note: A good tip to remember when cooking fresh pasta. Ensure that the water is boiling vigorously before adding the pasta. Once added, stir gently and cover the pot with a lid immediately to bring the water back to a full boil. Start the 2 minute cooking time as soon as the water begins to boil again. At this time, remove the lid, keep the pot at temperature to ensure a vigorous boil, and stir every now and then to prevent the pasta from sticking.
Remove the prosciutto from the saucepan, slice into thin strips and stir it back into the leeks. Season to taste with salt and pepper, stir in the Parmigiano Reggiano and the rest of the butter. Drain the pasta, reserving a cup or so of the cooking water and add the pasta to the leeks. If necessary, add some of the cooking water to make a smooth and silky sauce. Transfer to a serving bowl or platter and sprinkle with the pangrattato. Serve immediately with extra Parmigiano Reggiano and pangrattato on the side.