A somewhat humble root vegetable, the leek deserves its time in the spotlight. Easy to grow but dirty and requires a good cleaning prior to use. I believe the leek is taken for granted and so I grow it from seedlings annually.
The leek is in the same plant family as onions and garlic, genus Allium. They are quite hardy and some cultivars can be over wintered. I grow ‘summer’ leeks which are smaller and harvested in early fall. The mild onion-like flavor is not as strong as a larger variety. Leeks have few pest or disease problems and therefore are a must in my vegetable garden. They are also available year round in the grocery store.
While researching fun facts when I wrote this post, I found that leeks are one of the national symbols of Wales. They are worn with a daffodil in celebration on St. David’s Day (St. David is the patron saint of Wales and a national holiday in this commonwealth). Shakespeare referenced leeks in his play Henry V by noting ‘the wearing of a leek as an ancient tradition’. Queen Elizabeth II had a Welsh leek on the train of her coronation gown along with other traditional symbols. Fancy that.
Like onions and garlic, leeks are both an ingredient for cooking and can be presented as a dish on its own. The beauty of cooking with them is that you do not shed a tear and can still benefit from the onion flavor. But don’t get me wrong- leeks have their own distinct flavor which some do not care for (you know who you are). I find them to be sweeter and more subtle than an onion. If a recipe calls for a leek, do not substitute an onion as the outcome will not be the same.
When I have the time, I make my own stocks and always include at least the green leaves of the plant that I saved after cooking the edible sections. The roots and long green leaves are cut off and the stalk sliced up the middle for cleaning. The dirt collects in the layers of the leek and can be quite sandy and gritty. Sliced leeks in their raw form are crunchy but tend to fall apart when cooking. No problem there. If you cook them whole, brush with olive oil, salt and pepper after cleaning and throw them on the grill for a few minutes. You will not be disappointed. They are an attractive accompaniment as a side vegetable or even just as a garnish.
Tried and true, leek and potato soup can be served warm or cold (vichyssoise). As a long time lover of leeks, I enjoy the soup both ways but typically prepare it to serve warm as the weather gets cooler.
Ali’s Leek and Potato Soup
- 12 leeks, white and light green parts, cleaned/chopped
- 2 lbs. baby Yukon Gold potatoes, cut in quarters, skin remaining
- ¼ cup olive oil, divided
- Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- ½ cup white wine
- 6 cups chicken stock
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- 8 ounces crème fraîche (preferable) or sour cream
- 1 chopped raw leek for garnish
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Toss potatoes with divided olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Roast potatoes for 30 minutes until tender. Turn periodically.
- Meanwhile, saute leeks in remaining oil in large pan.
- Remove potatoes from oven and place with leeks. Stir in wine and 1 cup of chicken stock over low heat.
- In batches, purée vegetables to a rough texture with remaining chicken stock in food processor.
- Return mixture to a Dutch oven and add cream, crème fraîche and more salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve warm and garnish with a few raw leeks.
Lately, I have been adding arugula to soups. In my last post (archive August 2015 in Ali’s Epicurean Gems) it can be added to the green tomato gazpacho. With this leek soup, I have prepared it both ways and enjoyed it. Arugula is a green that has a spicy, peppery taste that is fantastic and imparts a different level of flavor to the soup. My leek is soup is more traditional. You make the choice. If you do add it, combine with the vegetables to wilt until ready to purée.
There is no denying it ~ the holidays are around the corner. If I have said it once, I have said a million times that fall is my favorite time of the year. I don’t think Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without mashed potatoes (even though that is my LEAST favorite way to eat a potato) so I sometimes make the following recipe with a rib roast on Christmas Day. The preparation seems lengthy but is well worth the effort. And quite frankly just seems right.
Ali’s Potato Leek Gratin
- 3 T. butter
- 3 leeks, cleaned and sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 T. flour
- 3-1/2 cups whole milk
- 2 tsp. Kosher salt
- 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
- 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp. dried thyme
- 2 cups shredded Italian cheese blend
- 3 lbs. large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced on a mandoline (yes, that finger altering device)
- Melt butter in 3 qt. saucepan over medium heat.
- Add leeks and sauté just until tender.
- Add garlic, sauté 1 minute.
- Whisk in flour, stirring constantly for 1 minute (mixture will be gummy).
- Gradually whisk in milk.
- Add salt, pepper, nutmeg and thyme.
- Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until mixture thickens.
- Remove from heat; stir in cheese until melted and smooth.
- Pat potatoes dry. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP AS THE GRATIN WILL NOT SET PROPERLY!
- Layer half the potatoes in a lightly greased 9×13 inch baking dish.
- Pour half the sauce evenly over the potatoes.
- Repeat the layer, ending with sauce.
- Bake at 375 degrees for 50 minutes and liquid is set.
- Remove from the oven and let stand 10 minutes.
As I am writing this post, I just thought of an easy hors d’oeuvre. How about sautéing a few leeks with chopped potatoes and throwing them on a pre-baked sheet of puffed pastry with shredded Parmesan cheese. Bake for about ten minutes. Walla ~ have to go now, time to taste test!