Leeks love ham, particularly the intense flavour of cured ham. There is umami-like alchemy when leeks are cooked with prosciutto and eaten with Parmesan, and you don’t need much of any of them. For this quick and easy pasta supper, the leeks are sliced in thick pennies and softened in butter and fat rendered from the ham. They end up impossibly juicy and leeky and the ham will be darker and more like bacon. When this mix is stirred into buttery macaroni with lashings of freshly grated, good quality Parmesan, it is heaven indeed. Quantities are easy to scale up or down, everything is easy to shop for, quick to prepare and the cooking is faster than heating up a ready meal. What’s not to like? Don’t you just hate that expression?
5 slices prosciutto or Serrano ham
2 leeks, approx 200g
50g lump of Parmesan
For the salad:
350g green beans
a generous pinch of caster sugar
½ tbsp wine vinegar
1 tsp Grey Poupon or Maille Dijon mustard
2–3 tbsp vegetable oil
Cook the macaroni in plenty of salted water according to packet instructions. It is likely to take about 12 minutes, which is more or less the time needed to cook the ham and leeks. Tear or slice the ham across the width into chunky strips. Trim and slice the leeks in thick pennies approximately 1cm wide. Soak in a bowl of cold water to clean, drain and shake dry.
Melt 25g of butter in a lidded frying pan or pan that can hold the leeks in a single layer. When it begins to make tiny bubbles, scatter the strips of ham into the butter and leave to shrink, shrivel and darken, turning after a couple of minutes. Add the drained leeks. Stir, season lightly with salt and generously with freshly grated black pepper, cover and cook gently, stirring a few times, for 6–8 minutes, until just al dente, browning on some edges.
When the macaroni is tender, drain and add the remaining butter and half the Parmesan, grated finely. Stir thoroughly, then add the contents of the leek pan. Stir and serve with more grated Parmesan and the bean salad.
To make the salad, boil the kettle or put a large pan of water on to boil. Top and tail the beans. I usually cut them in half to make eating easier. Fill a clean sink with cold water. Boil the beans in 2 or 3 batches for 2 minutes so they stay on the nutty side of crunchy. Scoop into the cold water to chill and arrest cooking. Drain thoroughly. Dissolve the sugar and a generous pinch of salt in the wine vinegar in a serving bowl. Stir in the mustard and gradually whisk in the oil, continuing until thick and creamy. Peel and finely chop the shallot.
Stir into the vinaigrette. When ready to serve, fold the drained beans through the vinaigrette.
Extracted from The Trifle Bowl by Lindsey Bareham (Transworld)