This weekend I went to a cooking class at Williams-Sonoma in Columbus Circle called Fresh & Fast: Pasta. It was a free little class, didn’t seem to matter that I signed up, as it was first come first serve space at the demonstration counter in the back of the store. Don’t worry, I was a bit early, got a prime spot right in the middle, wouldn’t want to miss the action. I learned a lot of interesting things – you can put a little of the pasta water in the cooked pasta when it’s out of the pot to keep it from sticking together, you can add a bit of sugar to a tomato sauce that hasn’t cooked for hours to cut some of the acidity, and when cooking with wine, use the wine in your dish that you’ll be serving at dinner. So buy that extra bottle that you can attribute to the cooking, and share some with yourself at the same time!!! I also found out that people put olive oil into the pot when cooking pasta – I’d never heard of this and instinctively it felt wrong – and it is! It takes away from the pasta a bit, and it coats the pasta so the sauce you’re serving it with won’t stick to the pasta.
We had an hour for the class, (an hour on my feet – I never noticed, distracted by thoughts of whether or not I would get to taste whatever gems we watched her cook. The good news – we did, which if we didn’t I wouldn’t have been happy. This is my primary complaint with cooking shows on television.) and went through the preparation of 2 different pasta dishes. The first was an amazing pasta bolognese, which I will prepare and present to you at a later date, but I’ve been cooking with red sauce a lot lately, and so I’ve prepared the second for you, which is a cheese based sauce, and also vegetarian for all you fakers out there trying to abstain from meat, and for you dear readers who are truly vegetarians (I’m so thoughtful). I liked this dish as it was easy to make, and quick, with little prep, and the sauce is light, contrary to most cheese sauces, so you won’t gain five pounds just looking at the pasta, longing for a bite.
Here’s the recipe, as written down by me, from my Williams-Sonoma cooking class (supposedly this, or a version of this, is in their (new!) pasta cook book. Convienently for sale for $29.95.)
4 leeks, the white and light green bits only, cut down the middle lengthwise
1lb – 1.5lb of cauliflower tops (I can’t seem to find whole cauliflowers at the moment, but luckily Whole Foods provides some already chopped for me! How nice!)
1/4 lb goat cheese
16 oz of pasta, such as conchigile bucatini, or any sort of pasta that the sauce will fill up into, bite sized
a couple garlic cloves
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the dark green tops off the leeks, and the cut the remaining white and light green down the middle length wise. This is a great way to cut leeks in general as it’s the easiest way to get all the dirt and sand out. You can sort of fan out the layers and run water through them, and catch dirt clumps you may have missed otherwise. Lay the leeks on a pan with the garlic cloves (on top of parchment paper or aluminum, saves time on clean up), drizzle olive oil and salt. Bake in oven for about 20 minutes, until the leeks and garlic cloves are soft. Be careful when touching them with bare fingers – HOT!!!
When the leeks are done start the pasta (start boiling the water before the timer goes off to cut down on wait time). This will allow aforementioned HOT! leeks to cool, and you can cut them up into bite sizes. I learned that you can quite liberally add salt to the boiling water – I gasped when I saw the chef do it the first time (it was actually a shocking amount, but the dishes weren’t over salted), but she said it cuts down on the salting at the end of the dish, which is better for your health. At any rate – don’t be shy with the salt in the boiling water. Check the pasta box to see how long it will take to cook – keep that in mind, so that 3 minutes before it’s finished, you can throw in the bite sized cauliflower tops. The chef lady said to blanch the cauliflower, but I never saw her take it out of the hot water and put in ice/cold water, so we can all remain puzzled at that. With three minutes to go on the pasta stick in the cauliflower.
In a bowl, put the goat cheese in the bottom, cut (can you cut goat cheese? isn’t is more of a separation thing?) into pieces. Take about a ladle or so of the pasta water (1/2 cup – 1 cup) and pour into the bowl. Mix with a whisk. add the pasta, cauliflower and the garlic and leeks you cut up while the pasta was cooking. Stir together, ensuring the pasta and veggies are coated in the sauce. Season with black pepper. I added some cut up kalamata olives – I loved the salty taste they add, and they were a nice contrast of color.
Seriously this dish should take no more than 30 minutes, requires so few ingredients, and quite honestly makes a TON of pasta. I made a half batch and have enough for a couple of meals. You can play with the ratios of pasta to cauliflower to leeks as you please, and if you’d like to increase/decrease the intensity of the goats cheese sauce play with the cheese/water ratio. I really like goats cheese, but sometimes can find it a bit overpowering, but didn’t find this to be the case in this dish. Its a good warm meal for these cold winter nights, but I imagine it would be lovely in the summer, when the leeks and cauliflowers are in season.