“Leeks are the softly-softly of the onion family.”
It’s a line I badly wish that I’d written. But I didn’t. It came to me third hand when a Facebook friend posted a Rachel Roddy article from the Guardian in which Roddy quotes Simon Hopkinson from his book Roast Chicken and Other Stories.
The thing about good food writing is that it resonates so deeply. It feeds us in so many ways – stimulating our memories and desires and appetites simultaneously. Food writing matters because food matters.
We have to eat – it’s a biological necessity. But eating is about so much more than mere nutrition. It’s about love and hunger and security and memory. It’s about yearning. It’s about our mother’s kitchen or our grandfather’s kitchen or the kitchen where we came to know love. It’s about going to that place we all long to return to – some mythical sense of home. It’s about community and belonging and the powerful connections between us.
After I read the article in the Guardian, I kept thinking about Simon Hopkinson’s line and Rachel Roddy’s leeks and mussels tagliatelle. I found myself in the grocery store, selecting the most beautiful leeks I could find. I went home and cut them vertically and washed them three times, thoroughly, carefully – removing all the grit. Then I patted them dry and cooked them gently, slowly in a puddle of olive oil and melted butter until they were soft and caramelized.
I made Rachel Roddy’s recipe virtually verbatim – only I used brown rice fettuccine in place of regular tagliatelle. And my proportions may have been slightly different. It’s a perfect recipe with lots of room for imprecision and substitution for those who like to tinker. You can easily make this gluten-free or dairy-free or vegan. If you don’t prefer mussels you could try some sliced cooked sausage, perhaps chorizo. If you’re using cheese – pecorino, Parmesan, or Asiago would all work well. Or do a vegan version – by skipping the mussels and sausage and adding red pepper flakes and plenty of freshly, coarsely ground black pepper.
I loved this dish and will make it again and again and again. In fact, I can’t wait to make it again. And I’m thankful to both Rachel Roddy and Simon Hopkinson for the inspiration, recipe, and really, really great food writing.
Fettuccine with Leeks
adapted lightly from Rachel Roddy’s Tagliatelle with leeks and mussels – see link above
- 3-4 medium-sized leeks
- 3 tbsp or 40 grams butter
- 3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- salt and black pepper
- splash of balsamic vinegar
- a generous splash of white wine
- 450 grams fettuccine or tagliatelle or linguine
- 454 grams mussels, in the shell, bearded and ready to cook
- Parmesan cheese to taste
- Prepare the leeks by removing the outer leaves where necessary and cutting away the root and trimming the top. Slice vertically in half and then rinse extremely well (I did this three times) to get rid of grit. Drain and pat dry. Cut the leeks into short pieces.
- Warm the butter and olive oil and in a non-stick pan. Add the leeks and cook until quite soft over medium heat. Once soft, I added a splash of balsamic vinegar and then caramelized the leeks. In total I cooked for the leeks for about twenty minutes.
- Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta.
- Meanwhile cook the mussels according to either Rachel Roddy’s directions or in my case – the High Liner package instructions. Set aside. I used the mussels in the shells and kept the shells on to serve the pasta.
- Drain the cooked pasta – remembering to save a little of the pasta water. Tip the cooked, drained pasta into the caramelized leeks and toss. Add a little of the pasta water. Season if necessary, with more salt and pepper. Add the mussels. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and a favourite white wine.