With leeks still in season and looking fabulous, it seemed the perfect time to cook this dish, which is one of my absolute favourite pasta meals.
Leeks have a superb flavour, they are incredibly versatile and are one of the most utilised vegetables in our house. Leeks are perhaps most often used as a supplementary vegetable, where they perform an essential role providing support and flavour to soups, stews and other dishes. But when they take the lead – when they have the opportunity to shine – it’s possible to create something truly spectacular.
This simple pasta supper is an example of how to use leeks for the best. It really is important to use butter in this recipe (I’ve tried it with olive oil and the result genuinely isn’t as good), making sure that the leeks don’t colour before adding the wine and stock. The relatively slow cooking makes the leeks soft, sweet and sticky. The combination with Parma ham and Parmesan – both of which are sharp and salty – is just wonderful.
This recipe – which is based on one by Jamie Oliver – serves 4 to 6 people. I made half the amount stated here which was perfect for 2 generous supper portions.
Recipe: Braised Leeks with Parma Ham
5 large leeks, outer leaves removed and thoroughly washed
1½ tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
A few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
A small glass of white wine
Freshly ground pepper
1 pint vegetable or chicken stock
12 slices Parma ham
2 handfuls grated Parmesan (or pecorino), plus extra for serving
Heat a wide saucepan, add the butter and melt over a medium heat. Add the garlic, thyme leaves (leaving some for a garnish), and leeks. Stir gently so that all the leek is coated in butter. Pour in the wine and stock, and season with pepper. Cover the leeks with the Parma ham, place a lid on the pan and cook gently for about 30 minutes, until the leeks are tender. Take the pan off the heat.
Remove the Parma ham from the saucepan, slice it up and stir into the leeks with the grated Parmesan. Season to taste with pepper (the Parma ham, Parmesan and stock are all salty and there really shouldn’t be any need to add more salt here), and serve quickly over some pasta (I chose fettuccine on this occasion). Sprinkle over some extra Parmesan and thyme leaves, and serve alongside a fresh green salad.