What (the) Nonna Taught Me: Pasta with Leeks, Lemon, and Olive Oil

Pasta, pasta, pasta, pasta! A song my dad used to sing to me, joyfully proclaiming the delight and deliciousness of pasta.

I have always loved pasta. Pasta of any type--my favorites ranging from pesto to Chinese noodles with bok choy, tofu, and black beans. This winter break, I was fortunate to be able to travel to Italy with my family. I was in pasta heaven. Never had I eaten such an incredible variety of pasta sauces: gnocchetti with pomodoro, trofie al pesto (pesto was invented in Genoa!), penne alla arabiatta, linguini with carciofi (artichokes), and so, so many more.

One restaurant we went to, Il Caffe di Chico, served the best food I have ever eaten. It was a tiny little café in Florence, with a handwritten menu stuck up on the wall. I had linguini with artichokes one day, and then next day had penne with leeks.

When I got home, I bought some good quality pasta and olive oil, and attempted my own version of the dish.

Penne with Leeks, Lemon

  • Leeks (1-2)
  • Olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • Lemon juice
  • One pound good quality penne
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Boil water for pasta. Cook pasta al dente (don't overcook--just done...). While the pasta is cooking, sauté garlic in olive oil. Cut leeks lengthwise in half, then slice each half crossways into thin slices. The layers will fall apart so that you have thin strings of leek. Sauté the leeks until tender (5-7 min) and slightly browned (they won't get as clear as onions, but it's the same idea). Add a splash of lemon juice, or as much as you like. Leeks are quite sweet, so I find that the flavors of the lemon, olive oil and salt balance each other out nicely. When pasta is done, toss the leeks with the penne.

The roasted vegetables we got as a side dish were also incredible--they were perfectly cooked, tender yet not mushy. We asked the waiter how they were done.

Roasted Veggies

  • Sliced or chopped vegetable (we had radicchio, artichokes, leeks---anything that roasts well)
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • Water
Coat the veggies with olive oil, and sprinkle them with lemon juice and a the tiniest splash of water. Roast in a high temperature oven (375, 400, or even 450º) for ~30-40 minutes, depending on the size and texture of the vegetable (for example beets, which I wouldn't put lemon juice on, would take longer than leeks).

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