“If there’s one thing I can do, I can grow leeks.”
That was Gigi’s pronouncement, as we trudged, shovels-in-arms, up the hill to the sunny patch where a long row of leeks stood tall and fat in the ground.
But as we surveyed the rest of her Wedgewood Urban Gardens, we leek-diggers were most amazed—and thrilled—to find an array of other good things growing. Mother Nature was doing what she does best, mostly unattended:
Thyme and tarragon, rumpled spinach,
Chives and spring onions, feathery carrot greens,
shoots of sorrel, cilantro, rainbow chard,
Big tufts of curly kale.
Very quickly, the idea for my community pot luck dish took shape.
I had a package of Heirloom Borlotti Beans (from Rancho Gordo, yes!), several pints of a very prolific peach tomato that Gigi had canned last summer (She can grow those, too!) and now a raft of leeks, chives, and kale. How about a sort of Springtime version of Pasta e Fagioli: Pasta and Beans?
Rather than begin with the usual suspects, onion-carrot-garlic-celery,
this base is All Leek. SautÃ© the color of spring in some fruity olive oil and give plump borlotti beans a tumble in the greens before adding water and tomatoes.
After simmering for about two hours, the beans become firm but tender. Add the torn-up, crinkly kale leaves to collapse into the stew, and sprinkle in some crushed red pepper flakes. The kale is a wonderful add-in here, those crinkly leaves sop up the flavors and mellow, while retaining tooth.
Something about Gigi’s lemon-colored tomatoes nudged me to take that citrus sensibility a step further, and I sliced a lemon, squeezed a little juice into the pot, and plopped in the fruit, rind and all.
Lovely. That acid tang compliments the nutlike bean, smooth pasta, sweet spring earth of leek. It adds more light to the dish. Perfect, as the sun adds more light to each day…
Oh, and about the pasta: You can put in whatever sort you’d like–small bits are best, saved for the last ten minutes of cooking. Since I have it on very good authority
that it is perfectly acceptable—possibly preferable—to break up ribbons of tagliatelle (but never spaghetti!) into pieces for the pasta component of the dish, that’s exactly what I did!
Heading into Spring Pasta e Fagioli
4 T. Olive Oil
4 Leeks, cleaned and chopped
Salt and Black Pepper
1 lb. Borlotti or Cranberry Beans, soaked overnight
3-4 pints of Canned Tomatoes
1 bunch Kale
Red Pepper Flakes
1 Lemon, cut in half, seeded
1/2 lb. Tagliatelle, broken into pieces
Chives–a handful, chopped
In a stockpot, sautÃ© leeks in olive oil for about five minutes. They will soften and sweeten. Season with salt-n-peppa. Stir in the beans, and let them get well-coated with the olive oil-leek mix before adding water. Add just enough water to cover the beans by an inch or two.
Simmer for 30 minutes and add the canned tomatoes, juice and all.
Simmer, covered, for another 45 minutes. Add the kale and a dusting of red pepper flakes. Squeeze in the lemon juice and toss in the rest.
Simmer another 30 minutes. Taste for salt, black pepper, and red chili heat.
If you want the Pasta e Fagioli thinner, add more liquid (water, tomato juice, vegetable stock) If you’d like it Stand-up Thick, mash a few beans and let it simmer, uncovered.
Break up pasta into the pot, stir in, and cook until pasta is cooked. Garnish with some chopped chives, if you like, and serve.
Makes a Big Batch. (4 qts.)