Kohlman: Creamy leek and bacon pasta is so simple and so good

As a milder member of the onion family, leeks are incredibly versatile.

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Everyone needs a quick and delicious pasta recipe that can be made with a handful of ingredients, and yet tastes like you’ve been at the stove for hours. This creamy leek and bacon pasta is such a recipe and I honestly can’t get enough of it. I mean, it basically had me at bacon, but when combined with the mild, sweet flavour of the leeks, it’s a winner. And you can be eating it in under 30 minutes.

Like onions and other members of the allium family, leeks are a bulbous vegetable with white flesh and green tops. The bulb on the leek is not round, just slightly larger than the stem at the roots. The more round the bulb, the older the leek. This vegetable has a lovely, mild onion flavour that adds depth to a dish, but does need some careful attention when it comes to preparation. Dirt and grit absolutely love to hide in between the thin leaves of the leek, therefore you cannot get away with just a quick rinse under the tap. You’ll want to cut the dark green tops off, saving them for stock, and discard the root ends. Slice the leek in half then fan the layers open, rinsing them thoroughly under cool running water. From here, I’ll swish it around in a bowl of cold water just to ensure all of the grit is gone. Pat the leeks dry, then slice and dice as needed.

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Creamy leek and bacon pasta Photo by Renée Kohlman /Supplied photo

As a milder member of the onion family, leeks are incredibly versatile. They can be boiled, braised, fried, or roasted and are absolutely delicious when sautéed in butter. However you cook leeks, it’s best not to overcook them as they’ll get mushy. When adding them to a recipe, you want to do so near the end of the cooking time. The slightly sweet flavour of the leek makes it a natural companion to cream, cheese, cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, as well as herbs such as parsley, sage, and thyme. And when the thin slices hit a hot skillet shiny with bacon fat, holy moly, that smell is one of the best in the world.

Rigatoni works beautifully in this dish as it has plenty of nooks and crannies that the sauce can cling to. That being said, any pasta shape in your pantry will work. I kept it pretty simple as far as ingredients go, but you could definitely bulk up the veg with peas or asparagus, and for additional protein, cooked shrimp or chicken would be delicious. The small amount of lemon adds a welcome brightness that cuts through the richness of the pasta. Serve straight from the pan, or if you’re feeling fancy, pile it high onto your favourite platter and add ample Parmesan cheese. A dish as rich as this only needs a side salad or grilled vegetables as an accompaniment. Or, if you’re having one of those days where all you want to do is carb load, eating a big bowl on its own is the way to go.

Creamy leek and bacon pasta
Creamy leek and bacon pasta Photo by Renée Kohlman /Supplied photo

Creamy Leek and Bacon Pasta

14 oz/410 g uncooked rigatoni or pasta or your choice

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6 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped into bite-sized pieces

2 large leeks, cleaned and sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

pinch red pepper flakes

1 cup whipping cream

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

zest and juice of half a lemon

2 Tbsp torn fresh parsley leaves

Creamy leek and bacon pasta
Creamy leek and bacon pasta Photo by Renée Kohlman /Supplied photo

1. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water and set aside.

2. Warm a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the bacon until it’s crispy. Remove from the skillet using a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to soak up the fat. (If you have some stale bread, this also works, as you can then make some tasty croutons.) Remove all but 2 Tbsp of the bacon fat and save the remaining fat for frying eggs, etc.

3. Turn the heat down to medium and sauté the sliced leeks for 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook for another couple of minutes until the leeks are softened. Pour in the whipping cream and cook for 2 minutes until the sauce thickens. Stir in the chicken broth and most of the Parmesan cheese. Add the lemon zest and juice.

4. Stir in the cooked pasta and 1/2 cup of pasta water. Toss until the pasta is well coated. The pasta will soak up the sauce as it cools, and you may need to add some of the remaining pasta water. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

5. Transfer the pasta to a large platter and garnish with remaining cheese and parsley. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Creamy leek and bacon pasta
Creamy leek and bacon pasta Photo by Renée Kohlman /Supplied photo

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