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Feb 2, 2005 08:00 AM

Marcella Hazan's pasta with leek recipe questions

  • w

thanks Farmersdaughter for the recipe you posted the other day!!

I made it last night and had some questions that I was hoping you or some of the others could answer:

1) Is it better to use a nonstick or other type of pan?

2) Should the leeks not brown at all in the initial softening stage? If they start to - is there anything you can do to save them - add more water, lower temp., cover pan, etc.?

3) how many times do you have to add water - just once? is it ok to add more often?

4) the garlic is pale blond when I peel it raw so I couldn't tell when it changed color than when it began to brown - is there another test - when you smell the garlic in the butter and oil or something else?

5) I halved the recipe - which could be the source of my problems - is this the type of recipe you can't halve all the ingredients? if so, what changes should i have made?

THANKS in advance!!!

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  1. I also halved this recipe and the leeks cooked more quickly than I expected. I added extra water a few times. I think part of it was that I sliced them a bit thinner than 1/4". The problem for me was that the pasta wasn't ready when the leeks were done. Next time I'll have the pasta cooked before I start the leeks.

    1. I also made this recipe last night, anticipating a nice dinner, and was rather underwhelmed by this dish.

      Perhaps it was the pale, uniform color of the meal (pale green and caramelized tan of the leeks, and cream color of the pasta and cheese) that added to my overall disappointment, but I didn't think the taste was as much as I had expected from write-ups here. And I used a very good Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, so that wasn't the issue. I even added a half bag of Trader Joe's rock shrimp that I had quick-sauteed, and that gave it a little more oomph, but for me, this recipe is not a keeper.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Linda W.

        Slow cooking makes or breaks it for leeks. If you cooked them just a bit fast, the color may be right, but the flavor would not be. It is the same as the difference between smothered onions and sauteed onions - leeks need slow gentle cooking to develop flavor for this dish.

        It may not have been the problem in your case, of course, but I though I would mention it just in case.

        1. re: summertime

          "Slow cooking makes or breaks it for leeks."

          Nope, definitely not the issue - it took about 40 minutes to get them the right color. The flavor just didn't do it for me. There's a recipe on Epicurious (Braised Chicken on Creamy Leeks) that cooks the leeks a good bit faster than this recipe and, perhaps because of the flavoring the chicken gives, I enjoy it much more than this one.

          Ah well - it definitely sounded good to me, which is why I tried it! Can't win 'em all. :-)

        2. re: Linda W.

          i absolutely agree with you. the dish was pleasant, but ppl were so excited about it- it ended up being just a bit blah to me. th leeks were very soft, creamy and sweet, and i added tons of pepper, but it ended up just being a little too cloying for my taste. it's alright as a small side dish. i would recommend some serious flavor contrasts. felt kind of like haute baby food.

        3. f

          I didn't use a non-stick pan, and the leeks did get a nice golden color to them--not dark brown by any means, kind of a lighwalnut color is the best way I can describe. If they start browning too much before they have completely softened, I would just lower the heat and add a tablespoon or two of water to get your out of your immediate jam and lower the heat of the cooking leeks.

          Since you halved the recipe, did you use a smaller pan? I used a 12" fry pan to cook the full recipe, but if I had halved it, I would have gone with an 8" or 10" pan instead, because the leeks are supposed to cook down slowly and you want them close together when you start the cooking--the opposite of what you do when you sear meat for stew (there you want plenty of space between the chunks of meat). If you start with a huge pan they are going to get brown too quickly.

          I think it's OK to add more water but it's better to lower the heat and cook the leeks down more slowly than to continue to add water to them.

          One thing is that you really have to use the amount of fat when cooking the leeks that Marcella recommends. In the past when I've done dishes that call for 4 tablespoons of butter and I cut it in half, there is a noticeable consequence in either flavor or texture.

          Regarding the garlic, I would just look for it to turn a darker shade than it was when it was raw, however you think of it, "pale blond" or otherwise.

          1 Reply
          1. re: farmersdaughter


            I can see now that I needed: a smaller pan - they were definitely too spread out, lower temperature and possibly more fat. mind you, they weren't bad, they just weren't as good as I had hoped and they were not getting as nice and creamy as the recipe had said they would.

            I'll try it again.