The majority of the vegetables I eat come from two families, the Alliums and the Brassicas.  I throw in an occasional carrot, squash or chicory, but my heart lies in a huge bed of wilted chard, or blanched kale mixed in with rapini and fennel, tossed in a sesame dressing. Although Alliums, the bulbed and onion-hearted clan, seem to make their way into every meal, they seldom take center stage. Sometimes, caramelized onion jam will top a steak along with some thick blue cheese, or deep fried onion blossoms at the state fair, but when it comes to providing the driving flavor of dishes they are often relegated to bases or at least a brief accent before being brushed aside.

Not any more I say! Let the onions and their buried brethren shine forth. And who better to lead the charge, than the subtle leek. Like a large scallion, but even more softly spoken, leeks become sweet, gentle and tender when slowly sauteed in butter. A wonderful accompaniment to quiet soups, potato and leek for example, leeks can also create a wonderful flavor when accompanying seafood or other lighter meats.

When cooking with leeks, cut off the dark green leaves – the white is what you want. A little pale green isn’t bad, but the further out you go the greater the chance of imparting a bitter bite to your dish. Chop the leeks crosswise to form little coins about the thickness of two pennies and toss them in water to remove any dirt in between the rings. Pat them dry and they’re ready to go. This recipe uses leeks, backed up by its slightly stronger cousin the shallot, along with cremini mushrooms and seared scallops on a bed of fresh tagliolini.  As a pan sauce, a little white wine, stock and butter makes the dish.

2 servings of fresh tagliolini or other fresh pasta

1 pound of jumbo scallops, thawed and patted dry

1/2 medium sized shallot

2 medium leeks, sliced as described above

1 pound cremini mushroom, sliced thick

2 T unsalted butter

3 T olive oil

1 T vegetable oil

1/8 cup white wine

1/8 cup stock

2 pinches of flour

Parmegiano-Reggiano

1 t fresh parsley, minced

Salt and pepper

Bring two quarts of water to a boil, reduce to simmer and add two tablespoons sea salt and one tablespoon olive oil. In a small non-stick saute pan heat one tablespoon butter and vegetable oil over high heat until oil shimmers and butter begins to barely brown.  Salt and pepper scallops and place flat side down in the pan. When searing scallops it  is important not to put too many in the pan – there should be 1/2 inch between each scallop – or else it will lower the pan temperature too much and they will steam instead of sear. Also, resist the temptation to move them. Seriously, don’t touch them, I know it’s hard, for at least three minutes.  Then gently lift one edge, if the scallop is ready it will easily flip over to sear the other side.  When scallops are a golden brown on both sides remove them to another plate and cover them to keep them warm.

Place pasta in boiling water, bring to a boil and cook for another three minutes.  Remove pasta to colander, drain and sprinkle with olive oil. Set aside.

In a large saute pan bring the rest of the butter and olive oil to medium heat.  When butter bubbles add leeks and cook for two minutes until they begin to become soft. Then add shallots and mushrooms and cook for another 3-5 minutes until shallots begin to caramelize and mushrooms soften. Add white wine and stock, and reduce by half.  Sprinkle flour over mixture and mix in, add scallops and allow to cook for another minute. When sauce thickens slightly, add pasta and toss in sauce, add salt and pepper to taste, remove from heat and plate.  Place noodles first, then scallops and pour sauce over the top.  Garnish with shredded parmegiano and parsley. Enjoy!

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