Recipe: Pappardelle with Cockles, Leeks, and Saffron
It’s time to take the tomatoes out of your pasta. Don’t you think? Although I haven’t resigned myself to cranking open the canned stuff quite yet. There’s always this in-between period for me, after a summer of fresh tomatoes (especially this summer, when their flavor was so deepened by the strong sun). Before I head straight for the can opener, I like a no-tomato pasta sauce, with its flavor anchored by a substantial soffrito of aromatics; here I chose leeks, celery, garlic, and thyme. And then, with that flavoring in place, you can go ahead and add vino, maybe a splash of broth, and in this case, all the juices the cockles give off once they open. This is a gentle, elegant, and herby version of spaghetti with clam sauce. Nice for a change.
Pappardelle with Cockles, Leeks, and Saffron
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 leeks, well cleaned and cut into medium dice, using the white and only the tenderest green parts
1 celery stalk, cut into small dice
2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
About 8 thyme sprigs, the leaves lightly chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup dry white wine
1 pound New Zealand cockles, well scrubbed
About 12 saffron threads, dried and ground
½ cup warm chicken broth
A generous pinch of Piment d’Espelette pepper
½ pound fresh pappardelle
A small handful of tarragon leaves, lightly chopped
A slightly larger handful of flat leaf parsley, lightly chopped
Set up a pasta cooking pot filled with water, and bring it to a boil.
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium flame. Add the leeks and the celery, and sauté until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and the thyme, and let them sauté for about a minute. Add the butter, and let it melt. Add the white wine, and allow it to bubble for about a minute, to throw off its alcohol. Add the cockles, and give them a stir. Dissolve the saffron in the chicken broth, and add it to the skillet. Add the black pepper and the Piment.
Add a generous amount of salt to the pasta water, and drop in the pappardelle, giving them a little stir to prevent sticking.
Cook the cockles, uncovered, until they open, about 4 minutes or so. Taste for salt, adding a little if needed (often cockles are salty enough, but they vary).
When the pappardelle is tender, drain it well, and place it in a serving bowl. Pour on the clam sauce. Add the tarragon, parsley, and a generous drizzle of fresh olive oil, and give everything a gentle toss. Serve right away.