Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Fettuccine with Leeks, Walnuts & Cream

I love pasta “sauces” that showcase one main vegetable. A quick scan of pastas I’ve posted over the years will bear this out:  peppers, broccoli, mushrooms, zucchini, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, corn, peas, winter squash, Swiss chard, tomatoes … although… maybe tomatoes don’t count….   Anyway, I obviously can’t get enough of these kinds of pastas.  They are a great way for someone in a small household to use up vegetables…or for the cook in any sized household to take advantage of seasonal abundance.  They are also usually fairly straightforward in their preparation…which means they can make for a quick dinner.  Furthermore, from a cook’s perspective they are instructive in that you can learn what spices, herbs, etc set off that one vegetable to advantage—making these pastas a great way to get to really know a vegetable and at the same time train your palate.    

Recently I was reminded of a “single ingredient” pasta I hadn’t made in a while when I found myself with several leeks in my pantry that had been intended for an event that ultimately didn’t happen.  (A lot of my eating this past year had been dictated by having to find ways to use ingredients that were purchased for an event that was canceled due to the pandemic.)  I could have used the leeks for an overdue “leek weekend” (
à la French Women Don’t Get Fat)…but I didn’t really have enough for a whole weekend of dining (or to be more precise, not dining….). So I settled on other uses:  in a tart…a soup…and a pasta.  I was able to spread my leek fest out since they—like most winter vegetables—store pretty well.

The pasta I made is from a book by Janet Fletcher called
Four Seasons Pasta.  If you have never run across this book…and you love pasta…you should check it out.  The book is organized by the seasons and is filled with recipes featuring authentic Italian sauces that aren’t necessarily familiar to American audiences.  The recipes work well…and are delicious.  And if you are interested in learning how to make your own pasta, there’s a good section on that too.

To make the leek sauce, leeks are softened in butter…reduced with a bit of cream…and finished with minced toasted walnuts and parsley.  Like other members of the onion family, leeks become sweet with prolonged cooking.  This cooking also gives them a silky texture.  The cream enhances both the sweetness and silkiness.  The slightly bitter toasted walnuts provide a nice flavor counterpoint and interesting texture.  Once the leeks are cleaned (the most difficult part of the recipe) the sauce comes together quickly and easily, making this a simple, elegant…and slightly different…winter weeknight meal. 

 Fettuccine with Leeks, Walnuts & Cream 

4 T. unsalted butter
5 or 6 leeks—white and pale green parts only—halved lengthwise, sliced thinly crosswise and well rinsed (5 to 6 cups sliced leeks)
Salt & Pepper, to taste
3/4 c. chicken stock
1 c. heavy cream
1 lb. fettuccine
2 T. minced flat leaf parsley
1/2 c. walnuts, plus more for garnish—toasted and chopped medium fine

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium low heat.  Add the leeks and season lightly with salt.  Stir to coat with the butter.  Cover and cook gently until the leeks are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes—reducing the heat if necessary.  There should be a few tablespoons of flavorful liquid in the pan when they are done.  Add the stock and cream to the leeks and bring to a simmer.  Cook briefly, until the sauce is just slightly thickened.  Remove from the heat and keep warm.

While the leeks cook, bring 6 quarts of water to the boil in a large stock/pasta pot.
  Add 2-3 Tablespoons of salt.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente.  Drain, reserving some of the pasta cooking liquid.

Add the parsley, walnuts and a generous amount of pepper to the leeks.
  Add the pasta and toss to coat—adding some of the reserved pasta water if it seems dry.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Serve, garnished with more walnuts if desired.  Serves 4 to 6.


  • Add a clove or two of minced garlic and/or some minced fresh thyme to the leeks while they cook.
  • Stir in a few tablespoons of mascarpone to the finished sauce.
  • Garnish the pasta with crumbled goat cheese or blue cheese.

(Recipe from Four Seasons Pasta, by Janet Fletcher)

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