Spaghetti with Creamy Wild Leek Pesto

19 04 2010


Every food magazine and many websites I’ve looked at over the past few weeks have been excited about spring and all the great produce we can now cook with. Asparagus, artichokes, strawberries and green peas are all featured in spring recipes and I’m as excited as anyone about cooking again with fresh local produce.  The only problem?  For most people living in Canada and the northern United States, these items won’t be available for a while.  

So why not make the most of what little we do have?  Wild leeks (a.k.a. ramps) are in season now and they are a flavourful and versatile spring treat.  They look like leafy green onions and taste like a mix between garlic and onion.  The entire plant is edible and can be used in everything from salad dressings to pasta sauces. Unfortunately, ramps aren’t available everywhere and they can be hard to find even in areas where they do grow. Farmer’s markets are the best place to find them – they likely won’t be carried by major grocery store chains.  I typically purchase them at St. Lawrence Market in Toronto.

Wild leeks, which are also known as ramps.

 

This recipe is very rich so it’s best served in smaller portions.  However, the recipe can easily be doubled if you’re feeding a crowd.

Spaghetti with Creamy Wild Leek Pesto

Makes 4 servings

  • 3 oz. (85 grams) slab bacon or regular bacon, cut into small dice
  • 2 oz. (60 grams) wild leeks = about 10 to 12 
  • 2 teaspoons neutral oil such as safflower or canola
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1/4 grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 lb. (250 grams) dried spaghetti
  1. Heat a skillet or large saucepan on medium-high heat and add bacon.  Cook until cubes are crisp and browned, about 7 minutes.
  2. While the bacon is crisping, prepare the pesto.  Trim the root tip but preserve as much of the white bulb as possible. Wash and dry the leeks carefully, making sure to get all of the dirt out of the leaves. 
  3. Chop the leeks into three or four pieces and place in a food processor or the chopping cup of a hand blender.  Add oil and a pinch of salt.  Pulse until the wild leeks are fully chopped and relatively smooth.  It should look like coarse pesto.
  4. Drain any excess fat from the crisped bacon.  On medium heat, add the wild leek pesto and stir fry for about 2 minutes to get rid of the sharp ‘raw’ flavour of the leeks.  Add cream and stir until the sauce is thoroughly combined.  Heat until the cream is just warmed through, about 1 minute.  Stir in parmesan and season to taste with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
  5. Cook spaghetti according to package instructions (see How to Cook Perfect Pasta for tips).  Drain and toss with creamy pesto sauce. Garnish with a wild leek leaf and serve with extra parmesan if desired.

OPTIONAL:  To make a vegetarian version, omit the bacon.  Add two teaspoons of olive oil to the skillet and sauté the pesto before adding cream and cheese.

For another delicious recipe using wild leeks, see my recipe for Potato and Wild Leek Gratin on Suite 101.com

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Spaghetti with Creamy Wild Leek Pesto is a decadent and delicious spring dish.

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Recent Eats…

15 04 2010

As I’ve mentioned before on this site, I don’t really do restaurant reviews.  There are countless other blogs dedicated to critiquing restaurants and detailing meals with photos and write ups.  However, I get a lot of inspiration from trying new places and thought I would share some of my favourite recent discoveries.  

Montreal

XO Le Restaurant – Located in the Hotel St. James in Old Montreal, XO is a mix of old world charm and modern touches and the menu is sophisticated but accessible. Stand-out Dish: Braised Oxtail Risotto.  The rice was perfectly cooked – slightly al dente in the middle with a creamy consistency.  To make your own risotto at home, check out my post on Basic Risotto.

Le Petit Alep – This casual resto near Jean Talon Market is the smaller sister restaurant to Alep next door.  They serve top notch Syrian-Armenian dishes, such as shish taouk and Armenian sausages.  Stand-out Dish: Muhummara, a red pepper -pomegranate-walnut based dip that is delicious and addictive.  You can make a version of it with this recipe from epicurious.com: Muhummara.

Le Petit Alep in Montreal

 

New York City

‘Ino –   A small, casual panini restaurant in New York’s West Village, ‘Ino Cafe and Wine Bar takes the humble sandwich to a whole new level.   The menu offers everything from grilled panini to amazing crostini with inventive toppings such as butternut squash. Stand-out Dish: Truffled Egg Toast. The recipe for it and other ‘Ino dishes are available in their book Simple Italian Sandwiches: Recipes from America’s Favorite Panini Bar but you can also find it on-line here: Truffled Egg Toast.

Simple Italian Sandwiches: Recipes from America's Favorite Panini Bar, by Jennifer and Jason Denton with Kathryn Kellinger

 

Freemans – This funky resto on NYC’s Lower East Side has eclectic decor and a creative cocktail menu.  I was there with a group on Valentine’s Day so our menu options were limited but the choices we had were well prepared.  Stand-Out Dish – Grilled Cheddar Toasts. You can check out my version here: Cheese Toasts.

Locanda Verde – Chef Andrew Carmellini was voted Time Out New York’s 2010 Chef of the Year for his latest venture. Located in TriBeCa’s Greenwich Hotel, the restaurant has gotten a lot of press over the past few months for its rustic and flavourful Italian cooking. Stand-Out Dishes: It’s a tie between the Beet Salad with Blue Cheese and delicate, house made Grandmother’s Ravioli.  For a slightly different version of beet salad, try my recipe for Roasted Beet Salad with Walnuts and Feta. You can also re-create some of Chef Carmellini’s dishes with his best selling cookbook, Urban Italian: Simple Recipes and True Stories from a Life in Food

Urban Italian: Simple Recipes and True Stories From a Life in Food, by Andrew Carmellini and Gwen Hyman

 

Palm Beach / Miami

Palm Beach Grill – This casual resto is part of the Hillstone Group which owns the popular Houston’s chain in the United States.   During peak season, the people watching is always entertaining and the valet parking area is filled with luxury cars. Luckily the food is good too.  Stand-out Dish – the Cheeseburger.  It may seem simple but a hamburger cooked to perfection can be surprisingly hard to find and Palm Beach Grill does it right.

Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink – Michael’s is often mentioned on lists of Miami’s best restaurants and with good reason – the food is fantastic.  I joined my friends Judi and Robin for Sunday brunch, which is served tapas style.  We shared a few dishes, which is a great way to try more of the menu.  Stand-out Dishes: Everything we had was delicious but the highlights were the Burrata with local heirloom tomatoes and Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with blackberry compote.

Brunch and dinner menus from Michael's Genuine Food and Drink in Miami

 

Scarpetta – A Florida outpost of the New York restaurant, Scarpetta is located in the newly refurbished Fontainebleau Hotel. The space is stunning and the people watching can’t be beat.  However, the food lives up to the scene.  A starter of burrata with heirloom tomatoes was fantastic (clearly I love burrata!) and the house made pastas are delicious. Stand-Out Dish: The famous Spaghetti with Tomato-Basil Sauce, a simple but perfectly executed dish that is greater than the sum of its parts. You can make your own version using chef/owner Scott Conant’s recipe: Scarpetta’s Tomato-Basil Spaghetti.

Prime One Twelve – Located on South Beach’s Ocean Drive, Prime One Twelve is definitely a scene.  There’s a good chance you’ll spot some boldface names (we were seated next to NBA star Dwyane Wade and actress Gabrielle Union).  The food is pretty good as well (if on the pricey side).  Stand-Out Dish – Surprisingly, it was the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, which was served with sweet corn relish and tartar sauce.  

Toronto

Lady Marmalade – This eclectic breakfast/lunch spot started in Victoria, B.C. and the owners recently opened a Toronto location in the Leslieville neighbourhood.  There are creative options such as a ‘good morning poutine’ and various mexican-inspired huevos. Nothing is fried so the accompanying potatoes have been oven roasted, making them less greasy than many breakfast joints.    Stand-out Dish: Baked Crepe Croque Monsieur, an oven baked crepe topped with ham, cheddar and a miso-scallion cream.

Weezie’s – This small and cozy bistro is a the perfect place for dinner, whether it’s a romantic evening for two or a gathering of friends.  Chef/owner Constance Guitard’s menu features simple but well prepared dishes including a juicy hamburger, decadent mac ‘n’ cheese and excellent frites. Stand-Out Dish: Frisée Salad with Lardons and Panko Crusted Poached Egg. Frisée salads with lardons (basically a salad topped with bacon and eggs) are a staple in French bistros but Chef Guitard puts a delicious twist on it by coating the poached egg in panko crumbs and frying it, resulting in the perfect blend of textures and flavours.  You can make your own version of the original classic with this recipe from Pastis in NYC: Frisée Lardon with Poached Egg.

Thanks to everyone with whom I’ve enjoyed these fabulous meals over the past few months.  I look forward to many more!

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Trish





Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce

3 04 2010

 

A bouquet of tulips is a simple way to dress up your Easter table.

 

This weekend is Easter and it’s a great opportunity to gather with family and friends for a meal.  While many will be enjoying an Easter dinner of ham, potatoes or lamb, I think brunch is a fun meal for entertaining.  Why not make a spring-inspired menu and invite your friends over for a casual morning of mimosas and delicious food?

Fresh locally grown blueberries won’t be available for a couple of months in most areas but frozen ones work perfectly for the sauce.  No need to defrost them – just put them in a pot with a little bit of water and they will cook down in no time.  Of course the pancakes are also great topped with maple syrup as well.  These pancakes are not the thin ‘flap jack’ kind – they puff up and are are quite substantial.

To round out your Easter brunch if you’re feeding a crowd, I suggest some baked ham with Maple-Dijon Glaze, Crustless Asparagus Quiche and Spicy Breakfast Potatoes

Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce

Makes about 8 thick pancakes

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups milk, as needed
  • 3 Tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola or safflower OR melted unsalted butter
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Additional oil for cooking pancakes
  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Stir to combine.
  2. Add egg, 1-1/2 cups milk and 3 Tablespoons oil or melted butter to the dry ingredients. Gently stir until just combined. If the batter is very thick, add a bit more milk (however, it should still be quite thick and not runny).
  3. In a separate glass or stainless steel bowl, combine egg whites and cream of tartar. Using a hand mixer or stand mixer with whisk attachment, beat egg whites until they form stiff white peaks. Fold egg whites into pancake batter until just combined.
  4. In a large skillet on medium-high, heat enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Working in batches of 3 or 4, drop large spoonfuls of batter into the skillet. Cook until the bottom of the pancakes are set. Turn over with a spatula and cook until both sides are golden brown and the centre is cooked through (insert a knife in the centre of the pancake to check for doneness). Pancakes can be kept warm in a low oven until all batches are cooked and are ready to serve.
  5. Serve with maple syrup or blueberry sauce (see below).

Blueberry Sauce

Makes about 1-1/2 cups sauce

  • 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  1. In a large saucepan, combine ingredients. Heat until simmering. Gently mash berries with a potato masher and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes.
  2. Serve sauce with pancakes, waffles or biscuits (it’s also tasty poured over vanilla ice cream!)

This article first appeared on Suite 101.com.

Bon Appétit and Happy Easter!

Thick fluffy pancakes topped with blueberry sauce.