Leeks, like onions and scallions, are part of the allium family and are considered root vegetables. Compared with onions and garlic they are expensive and less popular. It seems many people don’t know exactly what to do with them. One simple rule is to replace them with onions if you prefer a milder flavored onion, similar to shallots. The gentle leek becomes even sweeter when cooked and its oniony-ness becomes subtler when cooked on a low heat setting.
(gorgeous long stemmed leeks)
In early spring I can’t wait to have the garlicky-sweet smell of wild leeks (also known as ramps) tickling my nostrils – one of the sure signs that Spring is coming. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves … winter is here for a while!
Leeks can be found all year round but they’re best from fall to early spring. My onion farmer Alex told me that during winter, when it snows, they dig out long stemmed leeks from under the snow layer to preserve them nicely so that the low temperatures do not overly expose these pretty sturdy vegetables. (I always get the image of the wild bison in Yellowstone rooting through 8 feet of snow with their powerful necks for tiny grass shoots, but Alex might not like that comparison!)
(beautiful leek slices, the next step is to cook them slowly)
Classic Leek Cooking
Many leek recipes can be found in old cookbooks. When I trained as a young cook in Austria creating that famous soup “vichyssoise” was a big deal. With a thick and rich consistency, this delicious soup is made with leeks, onions, potatoes and a touch of cream and is served cold or hot depending on the season. And certainly everyone has heard of Quiche Lorraine. This dish was among the items on one of my first menus I designed for a restaurant. The traditional quiche Lorraine is a savory piecrust filled with bacon bits, melted leeks set in an egg custard. Still sounds pretty mouth-watering even if not so novel anymore.
Last But Not Least, Leeks Are Healthy …
Often overlooked in leeks is their important concentration of folate, a significant B vitamin that supports the cardiovascular system. Leeks also have a great deal of potassium important for maintaining the body’s fluid balance, nerve transmission and muscle contraction and for overall proper functioning of cells throughout the body. Maybe consider a leek instead of a banana for your next workout?!
Not So Classic Potato-Leek Tart
(makes one 9-inch pie dish)
1 stick butter (8 ounces)
1 ¼ cups whole-wheat flour
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons cold water
1. Cut butter into ½-inch cubes and put into the freezer for 10 minutes – ice cold butter will make a flaky crust.
2. Combine flour, salt and sugar in a food processor and pulse until combined. Add butter and pulse for 30 seconds – it should have a coarse texture at this point if not pulse for another 30 seconds. Add cold water and pulse for 30 seconds or until the mixture clumps up. If you don’t have a food processor you can incorporate the ingredients in a bowl with a fork or hands.
3. Put the crumbly mixture into a bowl and knead with bare hands into dough working quickly. Don’t over-knead the dough it’s OK to still see small butter pieces in the dough. Cover dough with plastic wrap and put into the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
4. Dust a flat surface with flour, press dough to a flat disk and rollout to 1/8-inch thickness. Dust flour over the dough to prevent sticking.
5. Line pie dish with rolled-out dough. Press pie dough with fingers into the pie dish. Freeze pie mold for 15 minutes.
6. Line piecrust with aluminum foil and weight-down with pie weights or hold-down pie with a heavy object such as a pot.
7. Bake pie for 20 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove aluminum foil and bake 10 minutes longer.
1 pound leeks, green tops cut-off
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
10 grindings black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup milk
½ cup grated cheese such as Gruyere
1 teaspoon oregano leaves
1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Cut leeks into ¼-inch thick slices then put into a bowl filled with water. Swish leeks with hands in water – this will release gritty soil particles.
3. In a 1-gallon sized pot heat vegetable oil and add leeks. Season leek with ½-teaspoon salt pepper and nutmeg then cook for 30 minutes.
4. Fill cooked leeks into the pre-cooked piecrust.
5. In a bowl combine milk, eggs and ½-teaspoon salt with a wire whisk and pour over the leeks.
6. Put pie into the hot oven and bake for 30 minutes. Sprinkle grated cheese evenly over the pie top and continue to bake for five minutes longer.
7. Check doneness by gently jiggling the pie, it should wiggle a bit in the middle.
8. Cool for 30 minutes then cut into wedges. Sprinkle pie with oregano before serving.
(the tart yielded +-12 portions my spouse and I managed to have four portions for the next day left over! Needless to say it tasted awesome)
Chef’s Tip: Serve tender baby greens such as baby spinach and/or arugula with the pie.