What's your favorite season? Mine is fall but if I was to base it solely on food, it would have to be summer. For some reason, I'm not too crazy about spring foods. Don't get me wrong, I still eat asparagus, radish, and artichoke. But they just don't excite me like peaches or tomatoes. So, I decided to make a spring pasta dish that I would get excited about. This caramelized leek and mushroom gruyere pasta may not be a typical spring dish, but it has leeks so it still counts, right?
Caramelized Leek and Mushroom Gruyere Pasta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons butter divided
- 3 medium leeks tops removed, cut in half and thinly sliced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon granulated sugar
- ⅓ cup sherry wine
- 8 ounces oyster mushrooms
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 2 sage leaves
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 lb fettuccine
- 1 cup reserved pasta water
- ½ cup grated gruyere
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add sliced leeks and season with ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon sugar. Cook until golden and caramelized, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the pan gets too dry, add 1-2 tablespoon water.
- Add sherry and continue to cook until the wine has reduced. Remove leeks from the pan and set them aside.
- In the same pan, melt another tablespoon of butter. Spread mushrooms in an even layer, giving them plenty of space in between. Let them sit until browned, about 4 minutes. Flip and continue to brown on the other side. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add minced garlic and sage and saute for 1 minute. Add back leeks along with ¾ cup heavy cream, balsamic vinegar, and lemon zest. Bring to a simmer and continue to cook until thickened, about 2-3 minutes. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile, cook fettuccine until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking pasta water.
- Add fettuccine, 1 cup reserved pasta water, gruyere, and black pepper to the sauce, tossing to coat. Simmer for 2 minutes or until cheese is melted and the pasta is well coated. Give a final seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Portion pasta into 4 bowls and garnish with toasted pine nuts. Serve immediately.
**Helpful tips and common mistakes
Leeks are, in my opinion, a very underrated vegetable. Considering that they belong to the onion family, it's actually quite surprising that that's the case. They're sweeter than onions and when cooked down and caramelized, they're very delicious.
Taking that idea, I decided to create a hearty pasta dish that incorporates sweet caramelized leeks with earthy mushrooms and rich, nutty gruyere.
Prepare the leeks by first removing the green tops; we only want the bulbs and lighter green leaves. Then, cut them in half lengthwise and wash the dirt in between the layers. Cut off the roots and slice the leeks.
If you ever prepared caramelized onions, caramelizing leeks is the same process. Melt a pat of butter and drizzle some oil in a saute pan. I like to use a combination of butter and oil because butter contributes to the flavor.
Continue to cook the vegetable until it becomes golden brown. This is a long slow process and should take about 20 minutes or so. If the pan gets too dry, add a tablespoon or two of water.
Finish the leeks with a splash of sherry wine, then set them aside. In the same pan, melt another pat of butter and cook the mushrooms until beautifully browned.
The trick to browning mushrooms is to not overcrowd the pan. Mushrooms have a lot of water in them so if you crowd the pan, they'll steam rather than brown. If you need to cook the mushrooms in batches, it's better to do so.
Add sage and garlic to the pan and saute for another minute. Then, add back the leeks to the pan along with heavy cream, balsamic vinegar, and lemon zest. Simmer the sauce and season it with salt and pepper.
The sauce will be thick but don't worry. We're going to thin it out with the cooking pasta water.
Toss the noodles with the sauce and stir with the gruyere until the cheese is nice and melted. Give the pasta a final seasoning adjustment and top with toasted pine nuts for the finishing touch. If you're feeling extra cheesy, go ahead and sprinkle some grated parmesan too.
Mushrooms and leeks go hand in hand and this caramelized leek and mushroom gruyere pasta is the perfect example. The sweet leeks pair beautifully with the savory meaty mushrooms and nutty cheese. My kind of spring pasta!
For more pasta inspiration check out this sausage bolognese pasta with ricotta!