Pasta with Leeks and Ham
Italians have known for a long time that braising sliced leeks in a little stock or wine turns them delightfully soft, creamy, and sweet. This traditional pasta sauce — this is my Italian mother’s version — makes the most of this sweetness, offsetting it with just enough savory ham and cheese to be richly satisfying. The result is quick and easy enough for a weekday supper, and pretty and unusual enough for a dinner party.
2 pounds leeks (approximately 4 medium leeks)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup chicken broth, dry white wine, or dry white vermouth (or a combination)
6 ounces cooked ham, sliced into matchsticks
Salt and pepper to taste
12 ounces dried pasta (any short, stubby pasta, such as rigatoni, penne, or bowtie)
Water to boil pasta
1 tablespoon salt
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Wash the leeks thoroughly to remove the dirt and grit that can get between the leek leaves, and remove the outer layers as necessary. Pat dry. Remove the roots and thinly slice the white and pale green parts.
Gently heat the oil and butter together until melted in a high-sided saute pan or heavy saucepan, then add the leeks and stir until coated. Add your liquid, cover the pan, and simmer the leeks gently until very soft and sweet and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 30 minutes. About 5 minutes from the end of the cooking time, add the chopped ham and stir into the leeks until evenly distributed.
In the meantime, bring the pasta water and salt to a rolling boil in a large pan and cook the pasta al dente, according to the package. Drain well and keep warm.
When the leeks are cooked, stir in the cream and cook for another 2–3 minutes until the cream is warmed through and absorbed. Stir in half of the Parmesan cheese.
Stir the cooked pasta into the creamy leek sauce until the sauce is well distributed and serve at once, topped with the remaining Parmesan cheese.