This past weekend at the farmer’s market I was delighted to find that, after months of nothing but old apples and winter squash, there is finally fresh produce available! I cam home with leeks, ramps, and a ton of inspiration for fresh, healthy meals. (Also some sourdough and our favorite marinated mozzarella, which we enjoyed with some salumi for lunch.)
This simple yet satisfying meal was inspired by the Shepherd’s Pasta at New World Bistro Bar – but dare I say that I actually preferred my version? The addition of dried tomatoes perks up the otherwise mellow dish and the melted leeks are to die for. Briny feta and fennel-scented olive oil tie the dish together.
Use a good-quality feta when you make this — the meal is simple, so you really want the ingredients to shine. The best quality feta comes as a brick packaged in brine and has a smooth surface (not pitted or rough and definitely not pre-crumbled).
I also like to dry my own tomatoes. They develop a very concentrated tomato flavor without any of the bitterness or the rubbery texture that store-bought sun-dried tomatoes tend to have. Covered in oil, a big batch will keep a few weeks in the fridge. You can also freeze them. Of course, store-bought tomatoes can be used too — just soak them in boiling water for 10 minutes before tossing them with the pasta in order to help restore some of their softness.
Although we enjoyed this on Saturday night, stretching the meal for hours as we lingered over prosecco, it would also make a great weeknight meal. If you prepare the tomatoes ahead of time, the whole thing comes together in under 20 minutes!
Orecchiette with Dried Tomatoes and Melted Leeks
Prep time: 5 minutes; Total time 90 minutes
- 1/2 pint Grape Tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 tsp. Sugar
- 1/2 tsp. Oregano
- 8 ounces dry Orecchiette or other small pasta such as miniature shells
- 2 Leeks, cut into half moons
- 1 tsp. Butter
- 1/4 cup Water
- 1/4 cup chopped Fennel (about 1/4 bulb)
- 1/4 cup Olive Oil
- 1 Tbs. Fennel Seeds
- 4 ounces Feta, crumbled
- Salt and Pepper
Heat oven to 300F.
Line a baking sheet with a silpat r parchment paper. Arrange the tomato halves on the sheet, cut-side up. Sprinkle with sugar, oregano, salt, and pepper. Roast for 90 minutes, or until shriveled and dry.
Prepare the pasta according to the directions on the package. Reserve 1/4 cup pasta water before draining.
While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and water and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are very soft and almost all of the water has evaporated. Transfer leeks and any remaining liquid to a small bowl. Add the chopped fennel to the saucepan and cook for 5 minutes, or until it begins to soften. Reduce the heat to low. Add the olive oil and fennel seeds, and cook another 5 minutes.
Add the drained pasta, reserved pasta water, and leeks back into the pasta pot. Stir in the fennel, oil, dried tomatoes, and feta. Season to taste with salt and pepper.