Children always grow up too fast. For me, that meant wanting to drink wine so desperately so I could be just like Maman. But she had a strategy for dealing with me: just say yes.
It's hard to imagine extricating the French from their wine, and as we know from French Women Don't Get Fat, denial is not a part of the French regime, but rationing is. Many French children, yours truly included, start training for the main event—a glass of wine with dinner—from a very young age. First, we get a finger dipped in a glass of smoky Merlot. Then, a splash of Sauvignon Blanc diluted into our water. That's where I got the idea for this week's recipe: Drunken Angel Hair with Leeks and Cream.
The angel hair is cooked in a boiling cauldron of water and white wine, just like I had drank as a child, and then tossed together with a soft, sweet sautéed spaghetti-julienne of leeks and sweet cream, plus a little more "raw" wine to finish it off. It's like a drunken Vichyssoise with pasta instead of potato.
My First Taste of Drunkenness
When I was three years old, I made the very wise and informed decision that I was now old enough to have my first taste of wine. I informed Maman; she took me very seriously. She dipped her finger into her red wine, and proffered it to me. It was everything I expected—it felt like magic. That great whoosh of the alcohol as it whisps through your head. The stick of the tannins as they settle on your tongue. I felt enchanted, and initiated. As soon as Maman turned her back, I decided to stick my finger into all the other wine glasses at the wedding, and before I knew it, I had fallen asleep for nearly an entire day. I never drank too much wine again.*
All this angel hair has to do is pass out on your plate. You job is just to make it as devilish and inebriated as possible and give it all the white wine you can find. What I love about this dish is that if I have a bottle of wine that I don't like, a really cheap bottle, or the ends of four or five bottles, I can use them all. The pasta will be so drunk, it won't know the difference.
* Maman likes to joke that she never had to worry about me in college because I got it out of my system so young. Then again, Maman also tried to insist that I order a glass of wine at dinner when I turned eighteen, and when I told her that the American drinking age was twenty-one, she looked at me as if she had never heard the thing before. "Are you serious?" she blinked.
- 3 small to medium leeks, whites and light greens sliced into julienne
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/4 cup water, plus extra if needed
- 1 bottle of white wine, 3/4 cup reserved
- 1 pound angel hair pasta
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
- 1 tablespoon chervil, chopped
- Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
In a wide, preferably nonstick sauté pan, melt the butter in 1/4 cup water on medium-high heat. Add the leeks and cover with a lid, lowering the heat all the way down. Cook until soft and spaghetti-like, about 20 minutes, adding water whenever the pan gets too dry, to avoid burning the leeks, and conversely evaporating off any extra liquid once the leeks are soft and sweet.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add all the wine in the bottle except 3/4 cup, and a handful of coarse salt. Add the angel hair to the boiling water and wine, and cook until al dente, just a few minutes.
In the pan with the leeks, add 1/2 cup of wine, and allow to reduce slightly. Add the cream, and heat through. Add the cooked angel hair and some pasta water, and toss the pasta to incorporate. I like to add the final 1/4 cup of wine "raw" so that the alcohol is still palatable, but that's your choice. You just want enough wine and pasta water to create a sauce from the leeks and the cream that lightly coats the angel hair. Add a lot of freshly cracked black pepper, and the Parmesan and chervil. Voila! All done.