Friday, September 12, 2014

Vegetable Feature: Leeks

by Andrea Yoder

Freshly harvested leeks in the field
Tomas shows me a healthy leek
While leeks are in the onion/allium family, they “add more of a whisper and less of a shout” in terms of their role in cooking as stated by Chef Deborah Madison. Nigel Slater, in his book Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch describes leeks as “the onion’s refined sister, brought here by the Romans, for the times you want the latter’s silken texture…” Leeks have a long white shank that turns to more of a bluish green color as you reach the top of the leek. The lower white portion is tender and consists of many layers of thin flesh stacked upon each other. The upper dark portion tends to be more coarse and thicker. The upper portion is best used in making vegetable or meat stocks. When the lower white portion is cooked, the leeks become soft and silky. They are more mild in flavor in comparison to onions, with a distinct flavor of their own. They have fewer sugars than onions, so they will not caramelize in the same way as an onion.

Leeks pair well with many fall vegetables including potatoes, celeriac and fennel. They are often incorporated into soups and egg dishes. It is best to take your time and cook leeks more gently and slowly over medium heat. Leeks become creamy and silken when simmered in butter or olive oil. They pair well with white wine, cheese, chicken, bacon, fish and fresh herbs.
The crew puts in a hard days work on the leek harvest

As leeks are growing, we “hill” dirt up around them several times during their growing season. We do this in part for weed control, but it also helps to keep the lower portion of the leek nicely blanched. As a result, you may find some dirt has found its way in between the layers within a leek. You’ll want to make sure you rinse leeks well before using. You can do this by simply cutting the leek in half and holding it under running water while separating the layers with your hands. You can also slice or chop the leeks and then wash them in a sink of water and dry them in a colander. Store leeks loosely wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them.

Apple, Leek & Cheddar Quiche
Recipe borrowed from Andrea Chesman’s Recipes from the Root Cellar.

Serves 4-6
Pastry for a 9-inch or 10-inch single-crust pie
3 Tbsp butter
1 large leek, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 large apple, peeled, cored and chopped
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
½ tsp dried thyme
1 cup firmly packed grated smoked cheddar or sharp cheddar  
   cheese (4 ounces)
3 eggs
Milk or cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

2. Roll out and fit the pastry into a 9 or 10-inch pie pan. Fold the overhang under and flute the edges of the dough.

3. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leek and sauté until limp, about 3 minutes. Add the apple and sauté until the leeks are tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in the flour and thyme.

4. Sprinkle ½ cup of the cheese into the pie shell. Layer the leek mixture on top of the cheese. Cover with the remaining cheese.

5. Beat the eggs in a glass measuring cup. Add enough milk to make 1½ cups. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over the pie filling.

6. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until puffed and browned. Let stand for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Enjoy for brunch, lunch or supper!

Seared Salmon with Braised Leeks & Potatoes
Recipe adapted from a recipe published in Salmon, A Cookbook by Diane Morgan, by Diane Morgan.

Serves 4
3 large or 4-5 small leeks
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium potato, peeled, small-diced
1 cup white wine
½ tsp salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
4 salmon fillets, 4-6 oz each
1 Tbsp fresh herbs, chopped (parsley, tarragon, thyme, or other)
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and cut into ½-inch pieces. Rinse leeks in a colander to thoroughly clean them. Drain well.

2. In a medium sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat and swirl to coat the entire bottom of the pan. Add the leeks and sauté for 8-10 minutes or until softened.

3. Add the potatoes, wine, and ½ tsp salt and black pepper. Cover and simmer for 30-35 minutes or until potatoes are tender, leeks are silky and nearly all the liquid has been reduced.

4. Remove from the heat and set aside partially covered to keep it warm until you are ready to serve it.

5. In a separate sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat until it shimmers in the bottom of the pan. Season the salmon fillets with salt & pepper. Place salmon in the pan, skin side up. You should hear a nice sizzle when you put the salmon in the pan. Sear the salmon on that side until it is golden brown and has a nice crust. Turn the salmon over and continue cooking, skin side down, to the desired degree of doneness.

6. Just before serving, add the fresh herbs to the braised leeks and potatoes. Adjust seasoning as needed. To serve, place a portion of the braised leeks and potatoes on each plate and place the seared salmon on top. Top each piece with freshly grated Parmesan and serve.

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