Let me start by saying that this is not pasta pesto. I only say this because, at first glance, it may appear to be just that and the vast majority of readers would skip over this entirely. I’m not knocking pesto here by any means—frankly, though I swear I’ll do different every year, whatever basil there is in the garden at the summer’s end is made into the glowing green sauce from Genoa. But lets face it, pesto is done to death, though not quite as much as deconstructed pasta pesto. I’m sorry but c’mon.
What this is is proof that the mother of invention really is necessity (and, of course, hunger). A little over a year ago I had my wisdom teeth extracted. That sounds gross. I had my wisdom teeth removed… That makes them sound like cysts or something. Whatever, you get it; one day I had fewer teeth than I did the day before. Being that you have to restrict yourself to soft foods for a few days after the great removal I made myself a huge Banana Pudding Trifle (I’ll have to get you that one later). But after living off of that for two days—and I’m not complaining—I needed something more. One cannot live on banana pudding trifle and hydrocodone alone. I needed something more. Something that was soft enough to not do any damage to the hack-job that was my mouth and fast enough to make so I didn’t have to stand for too long. God, the headaches were the worse part. The answer: pasta. But really, the answer is always pasta.
I had some arugula, chives and, as always, parsley. There was Parmigiano, a little cream and half a lemon knocking around in there. And a leek; not exactly a veg I always have on hand but leeks are always sold in bundles of three and you never need quite that many, so it was rolling around in there just waiting to be used. It was fate. It was desperation. Tired, miserable, crippled-by-pain desperation. It was all a happy accident, but considering Mrs. Wakefield’s invention of the chocolate chip cookie was a total accident I am more than happy to embrace any delightful disasters in my own kitchen.
The pasta I like most with this is cavatappi (sometimes called cellentani), but I’ve used everything from rigatone to penne to rotini. There is just something about the thickness of cavatappi with the bosky, slightly lush sauce and how its curls catch the fresh bits of herbs that make it the perfect pair. Plus it’s not a bad pasta shape to have for some really extravagant mac n’ cheese.
Start by heating some butter, olive oil and smashed garlic in a pan until it’s hot, at which point you drop in some sliced leeks. Their flavor is gentler and milder than that of a real onion, sweeter and mellower than that of a green onion, but more assertive than chives—they have an almost creamy taste to them. You do need to wash them pretty well on the inside because they can be full of sand and dirt—just split them in half lengthwise, slice them thin and rinse them off in a colander. Don’t worry about getting every drop of water off of them for this, just mostly dry. I had some sliced leeks in the freezer that I had washed, dried and frozen when I bought a few too many at the farmers’ market earlier in the summer. Just sauté them for a few minutes until they’re soft.
Pour in some white vermouth (or wine, if you have a bottle open), let it bubble up and simmer for just a minute before dumping into a mini food processor.
Shove some arugula and parsley into the processor and blitz until it’s pretty smooth. Pour it back into the pan with a little of the pasta water and, once its just simmering, make the sauce blush a little with some cream.
Dump in the cooked pasta (cooked a bit shy of al dente) and toss to combine (add a bit more pasta water to help coat the pasta if need be. Mix in some more parsley and arugula, chives, lemon zest and juice, Parmigiano-Reggiano and a bit more butter before decanting into two warm bowls.
Bread. Bread is good, too.