Pasta with Creamed Leeks and Spinach

There are some days when you just crave a creamy pasta dish. Ever since I discovered alfredo sauce when I first moved to America in 1989, I’ve had a bit of a weakness for creamy sauces, even if I first got hooked on sauces that came out of the jar or a packet. In fact, the thought of how many packets of Knorr Parma Rosa sauce I ate during college kind of frightens me, which is why I’ve only gotten my creamy pasta fix these past few years when I ate out at good restaurants (Enoteca Vespaio in Austin has a divine carbonara pasta if you are ever in Texas).

This past year I’ve discovered just how easy it is to make delicious creamy sauces at home, like these recipes: Orrechiette Carbonara, Zucchini Carbonara, and Pappardelle with Tomato and Pancetta. Not only do homemade sauces have no nasty processed stuff in them, they are also much healthier for you since you can control how much cheese, cream, or butter goes into the recipe. In fact, homemade carbonara tastes pretty light and incredible, unlike the goopy and heavy versions that you see at most chain restaurants or find in a jar. This recipe for Pasta with Creamed Leek and Spinach is the perfect way to indulge your creamy pasta fix this spring. The sauteed leeks lend a silky freshness to the dish, and adding some pasta cooking water to the sauce makes the creamy taste go even further without adding a ton more calories. This recipe makes enough for 4 dinners at $1.77 per serving.

Pasta with Creamed Leeks and Spinach, adapted from Food & Wine, January 2010
3/4 pound pasta, preferably fusilli or any other curly shaped pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 large leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1 cup heavy cream
6 cups packed baby spinach (6 ounces), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup lightly packed basil leaves, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
grated Parmesan cheese to top

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until it is al dente. Reserve some of the cooking water for the sauce, and then drain the pasta.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil up over moderate heat. Add the leeks and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the cream and let the sauce simmer over a moderate heat until it slightly thickens, about 5 minutes. Lastly add the spinach to the sauce and cook everything until it wilts, about 2 minutes.

Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and toss over a moderately low heat until the noodles are coated with the leek sauce, about 1 minute. Add some of the pasta cooking water to the skillet to thin the sauce as needed. Remove from the heat, add the chopped basil and toss. Season the pasta with salt and pepper, and serve with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese to top.

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