Caramelized Leek Pasta

March  3, 2022
18 Ratings
Photo by Pasta Social Club
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 40 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

This weeknight pasta sits comfortably on the cusp of winter and spring. Slowly cooking the leeks coaxes out their sweetness, while lemon and basil make this creamy dish bright. A shot of fragrant dry vermouth is my favorite part: a little unexpected, and it completely complements the leeks’ subtle onion flavor. (If you don’t have it, swap in a dry white wine or simply use water instead.) And any pasta will work well here—I went for the little half-shell, half-tube lumache to catch the bits and pieces of the sauce, but grab your favorite shape or whatever you happen to have in the cupboard. —Meryl Feinstein, Pasta Social Club

What You'll Need
  • 2 pounds (about 4 medium) leeks, white and light green parts only (roots trimmed)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup dry vermouth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 large lemon
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled and smashed
  • 1 cup panko
  • 16 ounces lumache, conchiglie, or your preferred pasta
  • 1 ounce finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Fresh basil leaves, roughly torn, for serving
  1. Slice the leeks in half lengthwise and discard any tough outer layers. Run under cold water to remove any sand between the layers. Pat the leeks dry and slice into ¼-inch half-moons.
  2. In a Dutch oven or large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and stir until coated in butter. Season generously with salt and pepper. Cook the leeks until very tender and golden, stirring often, 15 to 25 minutes. If the bottom of the pot starts to get dark, reduce the heat and add a splash of water to deglaze. Stir in the vermouth and simmer until the liquid has completely evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the cream and simmer until slightly thickened, 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and season with more salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Zest half of the lemon into a medium bowl. Halve the lemon and juice half into a small bowl. Cut the remaining half of the lemon into wedges. Warm 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until golden around the edges, turning it a few times, 2 to 3 minutes. Discard the garlic. Stir in the panko and a generous pinch of salt (and the rest of the oil, if the pan seems dry). Cook, stirring constantly, until the panko turns golden, 2 to 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and continue to stir until the panko is browned to your liking. Transfer to the bowl with the lemon zest and stir to combine.
  4. When the water is boiling, salt it generously. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions until 1 minute shy of al dente, or to your liking. When the pasta’s almost ready, return the leek mixture to medium heat. Scoop out ¼ cup of the pasta cooking water and stir it into the leek mixture.
  5. Transfer the pasta directly to the sauce with a spider, slotted spoon, or tongs (or reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta). Cook the pasta in the sauce for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring often, until the sauce has thickened and the pasta is well coated. Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Loosen the sauce with additional pasta water as needed. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
  6. Divide the pasta among bowls and top with the panko and basil. Serve immediately, with lemon wedges for squeezing.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Kendall
  • Meryl Feinstein, Pasta Social Club
    Meryl Feinstein, Pasta Social Club
  • denise simard
    denise simard
  • daisy
Meryl Feinstein is a chef and pastaia who left the corporate world for the food industry in 2018. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education, Meryl got her start at the renowned New York establishments Lilia and Misi, where she was part of the pasta production team. During that time, Meryl founded Pasta Social Club, a platform that brings people together over a shared love of food, learning, and making connections both on- and offline. She now lives in Austin, where she hosts virtual pasta-making workshops and develops recipes. Her dishes draw on her travels in Italy, ongoing research into the rich history of traditional pasta-making, and her Jewish heritage.

17 Reviews

denise S. June 9, 2023
LOVED. And it's easy.
daisy April 16, 2023
This is delicious & very easy to make
sari L. March 6, 2023
Hi! This looks heavenly! What would be a good salad to accompany it? Any and all suggestions welcome!
cnulty March 4, 2023
Hi! This looks amazing and I cannot wait to try it. I’m wondering if you have any protein recommendations to pair with this pasta?
GrilledCheezy March 4, 2023
I'm planning to add chicken breast and peas.
Tacopatty May 15, 2022
I loved this. No one else in my household did, but that’s their problem. I subbed Italian parsley for basil since it’s what my garden provided, but it paired well with the lemonyness of it all. I might halve the recipe and cut back on the vermouth/wwv next time. But I will never skimp on the breadcrumbs. Those are easily the best part.
Tk May 11, 2022
A wonderfully easy a weeknight supper. I didn't have bread crumbs so I opted to top with crisp prosciutto.
Kendall March 28, 2022
Such a fresh and delicious spring pasta! I made this with rigatoni and subbed milk for cream and it still turned out great.
bev S. March 21, 2022
Just made this and it was incredibly delicious! My husband deemed it to be the best thing he has ever eaten. Oh, the creamy richness of the leek sauce cut just a bit by the squeeze of lemon, and then there's the delightful crunchiness of the panko topping! Perfection! Thank you! I may dream of it tonight!
Meryl F. March 24, 2022
That's so great to hear! Thank you for giving it a try!
Darian March 21, 2022
This was great! The caramelized leeks were perfect, and the lemony breadcrumbs added just the right finishing touch. Great weeknight dinner and a delicious meatless meal option!
Meryl F. March 24, 2022
So glad you enjoyed, Darian!
Estherm March 18, 2022
Made this with coconut milk instead and added in some shallots, so delicious!
Meryl F. March 24, 2022
Ooh yum!! Can never go wrong with shallots. :)
severinoc March 17, 2022
Great tasting pasta! The crunch of the toasted breadcrumbs is such a great addition and the lemon juice to accompany! Super easy to make! A+
Meryl F. March 24, 2022
So glad to hear it!!
asdasd213 March 11, 2022
Loved the recipe! I think I'll buy some of the ingredients from Tesco (heavy cream, lemon) and some from (extra virgin oil)