Recipe: Farro Tagliatelle with Shrimp, Pancetta, and Leeks
Farro pasta, I’ve come to realize, can be a beautiful thing, especially if you buy a great artisanal brand such as Latini. Figuring out proper sauces to match farro’s robust flavor can be a bit tricky at first. Anchovies are a classic with this pasta, in Northern Italy, and I do love a simple anchovy and garlic condimento with it, but I’ve been discovering that lots of gentler mixes can work too. You just have to kick them up a notch (that tired expression is almost starting to sound fresh again to me). I chose shrimp for this recipe. You might not think shrimp would be a good match for such a strong pasta, but I added a few fortifiers, for instance leeks, which have a strong flavor, and black pepper. At first I tried adding a few anchovies as well, but somehow the anchovy overpowered the shrimp, adding a fishy taste, so I went with pancetta instead, and I believe I came up with a winner.
I found that a simple shrimp broth, made with the shrimp shells and some of the herb and vegetable trimmings, helps immensely to distribute all the flavors. It’s well worth the ten minutes you’ll need for the dish to get a really well rounded flavor.
Farro Tagliatelle with Shrimp, Pancetta, and Leeks
(Serves 2 as a main course)
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 ⅛-inch-thick round of pancetta, diced
3 medium leeks, trimmed and well rinsed, cut into medium dice, using only the white and the tenderest green (reserve some of the trimmings for the shrimp broth)
6 or 7 large sprigs of thyme, the leaves lightly chopped (reserve a few stems for the shrimp broth)
4 allspice, ground to a powder
Freshly ground black pepper
A big splash of dry white wine
3 round tomatoes, skinned, seeded, and chopped
½ pound farro tagliatelle
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
¾ pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined (reserve the shells for the broth)
A handful of flat leaf parsley, lightly chopped, reserving a few stems for the shrimp broth
To make the shrimp broth:
This requires the usually discarded stems and such that I direct you to save in the ingredients list.
In a small pot, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the shrimp shells, the leek trimmings, the stems from the thyme, and the parsley, and sauté until the shrimp shells turn pink. Now add about a cup of warm water, and let it bubble away until you’ve got about ½ cup of broth. Strain it into a small bowl.
Bring a large pot of pasta cooking water to a boil.
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta, and sauté until it’s just starting to crisp. Add the leeks, seasoning them with thyme, allspice, salt, and black pepper, and sauté until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the white wine, and let it boil away.
Add a generous amount of salt to the pasta cooking water, and drop in the tagliatelle.
Add the tomatoes to the skillet with the leeks, and sauté for about 2 minutes. Now add the shrimp broth, and let it simmer for about 2 minutes longer. Taste for seasoning, adding a little more salt and black pepper if needed.
In another large skillet, over medium heat, heat the tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil . When the skillet is very hot, drop in the shrimp, seasoning it with salt and black pepper. Spread it around, and let it cook without moving it around much. When you see it’s getting dark pink at the edges, turn it over and sauté the other sides. This should take no longer than about 2 minutes. Add the leek mixture to the shrimp, and turn off the heat.
When the farro tagliatelle is al dente, drain it into a warmed large serving bowl. Drizzle with fresh olive oil, and add the parsley. Give it a toss. Add the shrimp with all the broth, and toss again, gently. Serve right away.