Learn to love leeks

March 5, 2014 

Leeks are perhaps one of the most under-appreciated vegetables commonly found in the American grocery store.

They comes to us from the Near East, and are perhaps related to a variety of garlic, and are in the same family as the onion. Leeks were grown by the Egyptians, even the Romans loved them and Nero is said to have eaten a leek soup everyday for its medicinal properties.

The Romans took leeks with them when they conquered Central Europe, and they ended up in Great Britain. The love of this hearty vegetable has spread far and wide and leeks remain wildly popular in Wales, France, Germany and beyond.

When you buy fresh leeks make sure the plant appears to be in good shape with no brown spots or dried-out leaves. The edible part is the white stem, so remove the root and the tough, green outer leaves, and the even tougher green tops. Some people use the green leaves in stews or other long-simmering recipes.

When readying the leek for cooking, cut into 3-inch sections and then julienne (long, thin strips), place in a colander and wash thoroughly. As the leek is growing, pushing itself up through the soil, it often traps dirt in its leaves and needs a good wash.

The leek is a versatile vegetable and can be eaten cold or hot, although always cooked. It goes well with a homemade mayonnaise, garnished with a vinaigrette, topped with a béchamel sauce, hollandaise and served au gratin, braised or sautéed. It pairs well with pork or chicken, and can be turned into a delicious and hearty soup or added to a creamy risotto, and makes a wonderful addition to a pasta dish.

Cinch up your courage, spare a few coins and take the plunge. Leeks are affordable, easy to cook and delicious.

LEEK, HAM AND PAPPARDELLE

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 medium leeks, white and pale-green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced crosswise

Kosher salt

3/4 cup heavy cream

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1 pound pappardelle or fettuccine

1 cup finely grated Parmesan or Grana Padano

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 medium leeks, white and pale-green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced crosswise

Kosher salt

3/4 cup heavy cream

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1 pound pappardelle or fettuccine

1 cup finely grated Parmesan or Grana Padano

2 leeks

1/2 cup thick diced ham or 1/3 cup thick sliced bacon

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 pound thick pasta such as pappardelle or fettuccine

2-3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Red pepper flakes

Olive oil

Parmigiano-Reggiano

Prepare the pasta according to package directions, reserve a cup or two of the water the pasta was cooked in, and then drain the rest. Cut the leek into 3-inch sections, and then julienne, place in a colander and wash with cold water and drain thoroughly. Add olive oil to a large sauté pan, heat to medium, add the ham with a pinch or two of red pepper flakes and cook until starting to brown and become delicious. Add the leek and cook, tossing often for 3 or 4 minutes, add the cream and simmer until the leek is done, but not over done. If the sauce becomes too thick, cut it with the pasta water. Taste often, re-season as necessary. Place a serving of pasta in a large bowl, add the sauce and top with plenty of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve

with a good Sauvignon Blanc.

EGGS EN COCOTTE WITH LEEK

En cocotte is a French-inspired technique that usually involves cooking eggs in individual ramekins, along with other ingredients. This makes for an easy and somewhat unusual breakfast or as a delicious side for dinner.

2 cups cleaned, sliced leek

1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup water

4 rounds of French bread

4 eggs

Salt and pepper

1 pinch nutmeg

4 individual ramekins

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the leek into three inch sections and then julienne, place in a colander and wash with cold water and then drain thoroughly. Gently sauté the leek in butter, seasoned with salt and pepper, for about five minutes. Add the water, cover, and slowly simmer for 5 minutes. While the leeks are cooking butter the bread, make sure it is cut to fit inside the ramekin, and toast. Butter the ramekins, divide the leeks equally into the ramekins, add the toasted bread and top with an egg. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 4 minutes. Cut a sheet of tin foil to cover the ramekins and bake for a few minutes more, remove and serve at once.

LEEK AND SHRIMP WITH RICE

This recipe is intended to be made with a rice cooker.

1 cup jasmine rice

1- 1/2 cups chicken stock

1/2 white wine

1 cup chopped, cleaned and rinsed leek

1/2 cup large shrimp

2 tablespoons butter, or a little olive oil

Salt and pepper

Cut the leek into 3-inch sections and then julienne, place in a colander and wash with cold water and then drain thoroughly. Combine the rice, water, wine and leek in a rice cooker, and cook according to the cooker's directions. Season the shrimp and sauté quickly over a hot flame in butter, just until they take on color, no more than 3 minutes. When the rice is done, combine with the shrimp, taste and season as necessary. Serve at once.

SIMPLE LEEK SOUP

2 leeks

2 cups roughly chopped baking potatoes

1 cup cream

Salt and black pepper

Cut the root and tough green tops off the leek. Peel off the outer layer of tough leaves. Cut the white part of the leek into thin strips, and rinse off under cold water. Drain and dry. Add the leeks and potatoes to a sauce pot, cover with water, add a pinch of salt and simmer for 5 to 8 minutes or until tender. Use a fork to remove some of the leeks, allow to cool, and taste. If done drain the water, add the leeks and potatoes back to the pot, add the cream, season with black pepper and use a immersion blended to turn into a smooth soup. If you do not have an immersion blended use a food processor or blender. Serve hot with a loaf of crusty French bread.

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service