SERVES 4 TO 6
Over the years I have had the privilege of cooking with some very talented chefs and amateur cooks and have invited many of them to appear in my television studio kitchen. One of the most frequent visitors has been the well-known children's illustrator and author Tomie di Paola, whose family is from Calabria.
Tomie brings not only a knowledge of Calabrian cooking to my kitchen, he also brings an earthy joy and an adventuresome attitude to preparing good food. In one episode showcasing pasta, we filmed in Tomie's well-appointed kitchen, where he made fusilli with an outstanding creamy leek sauce. The secret is to slow-cook the leeks until they become very liquid and creamy.
When I asked Tomie where this recipe came from, he was quick to say that one night when some friends unexpectedly were in town, he invited them to dinner before looking in the refrigerator. Only a handful of leeks graced the shelf, so in a pinch this recipe was created.
2 pounds leeks, well washed and trimmed of the dark green stem
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, cut into thin slivers
1/2 cup dry vermouth
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
Grinding of coarse black pepper
1 pound fusilli
Water for cooking the pasta, reserving ¼ cup of the cooking water for the sauce
1 tablespoon salt
Cut the leeks into thin rings. You should have about 4 cups. Set aside.
In a large sauté pan (12 Ã— 3 inches), heat the olive oil and the butter and stir to blend the two. Stir in the leeks and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the leeks begin to soften. Stir in the garlic, and cook for 2 minutes, pressing on the garlic slivers. Raise the heat to high and stir in the vermouth. Cook over high heat for 2 minutes. Lower the heat and stir in the chicken broth, salt, and pepper. Simmer the sauce for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the leeks have become very creamy. Cover the pan, set aside, and keep warm while the fusilli are cooking.
Cook the fusilli in 4 to 6 quarts of rapidly boiling water to which 1 tablespoon of salt has been added. Do not overcook the fusilli; they should retain their shape, and be cooked through, but not mushy. One way to test for doneness is to break a piece of pasta in half and if any trace of flour is evident, the pasta is not cooked.
Drain the fusilli, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Transfer fusilli to the sauté pan with the leek sauce. Stir in the water and mix the fusilli and sauce over medium heat until well blended.
Transfer the fusilli and leek sauce to a shallow platter and serve immediately.
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