THE HUMBLE LEEK



   

A gentle onion, the leek has been recognised for millennia as a food of worth.

Early records of leeks’ use in ancient Egypt, the Middle East and Europe have been found, but no country has embraced the vegetable quite as much as the Welsh. For them a national symbol, along with the daffodil, its significance is represented in celebrations on St David’s Day — in his time in the Middle Ages the leek attained a mystical status.

Selection and storage: Preparation of the leek for cooking always involves washing, as soil can work into the upper layers. Removal of the dark green part and base roots and a soak in cold water usually is enough. Lately packaged leeks have appeared in supermarkets, the cleaning and trimming done. Not as satisfying as a market basket with the symmetrical shape of a leek or two popping out, but perhaps practical for apartment dwellers and those with restricted waste disposal. Nothing however, beats the crispness of a recently picked intact leek. The dark green top does not have to be entirely discarded. It is useful as a flavour boost in stocks, and very finely sliced is a useful addition to stews, or even boiled with potatoes. Store leeks in the refrigerator, trimmed just enough to fit. Pre-trimmed leeks need to be kept in their packaging or a plastic bag, to prevent them drying out.

Leeks go with: Potatoes, mushrooms, salmon, prawns, white fish, blue cheese, chevre, cheddar, butter, pepper, hazelnuts, walnuts, caraway, chorizo, prosciutto, chicken, meats.

Food and Styling Kay Francis
Photography Ken Brass

 TINY LEEK AND BLUE CHEESE AND HAZELNUT TARTS

Makes 24

Pastry

100g hazelnuts, roasted
1 cup plain flour
90g cold salted butter
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons sour cream

Blue cheese filling

2 small leeks
3 eggs
225g English Shropshire blue cheese (or other blue vein cheese)
1 tablespoon hazelnut oil

To make pastry, finely grind hazelnuts in food processor. Add flour and process, then add butter and process until well combined. Add yolks and sour cream and process until dough clings together. If necessary add more sour cream. Turn onto work surface and roll into a log. Roll in plastic, flatten and refrigerate 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 190˚C (180˚C fan forced).Cut 24 x 3mm thick slices from the leeks to give neat rounds. Chop remaining leek and any trim from the slices coarsely, place in food processor and process to a fine paste. Add cheese and eggs and work until smooth.

Brush 2 x 12-hole (2 tablespoon capacity) muffin trays with hazelnut oil. Shape pastry into a long roll and cut into 24 pieces. Press each into the base of the muffin holes. Spoon in filling and top each with a slice of leek. Brush leek lightly with hazelnut oil. Bake 30 minutes until puffed and firm. Remove from oven, cool in tins. Using a small metal spatula carefully lift out tarts. Serve at room temperature or reheated.

 WHITE FISH WITH LEEK AND MUSHROOM IN DASHI BROTH

Serves 6.

2 leeks; one finely diced, one julienned
6 fresh porcini mushrooms, thinly sliced
3-4 large fillets white fish, skinned (mahi mahi, blue eye cod, snapper)
500ml peanut oil

Dashi broth

6g bonito flakes
80g konbu seaweed
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
4 teaspoons sake
2 teaspoons mirin (sweet cooking sake)

In a large bowl combine the diced leek and sliced mushrooms. Slice the fish into 6mm wide strips and add to leek and mushroom mixture. To make broth, combine bonito in a large saucepan with 2 litres water. Stand 15 minutes then add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, uncovered, then reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Strain into a clean pot. Discard solids. Warm oven to lowest temperature. Put serving plates in to heat through. Heat peanut oil in a deep pot. Fry julienned leek in batches, for 1 minute. Remove and place on a tray lined with kitchen paper. Keep warm in oven. Heat broth until simmering. Add leek, mushroom and fish and poach until fish is just opaque, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and spoon into warmed bowl. Serve garnished with fried leek.

 LEEK AND SALMON RAVIOLI

Serves 3-4.

2 leeks
200g fresh salmon, skinned
275g packet gow gee pastry rounds (30 pieces)
1 egg yolk, beaten with a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon dried pink peppercorns, lightly crushed
125g salted butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
50g salmon caviar, for garnish

Trim and wash leeks. Finely dice half of one leek and julienne the remainder. Place the dice in a bowl and julienne in a colander. Cut salmon into 6mm dice and combine with diced leek. Spread 15 gow gee wrappers on work surface and brush with beaten egg yolk. Place one tablespoonful of the leek and salmon in the centre of each wrapper, keeping the edges clean. Position another wrapper on top of filling, pressing well around the edges with the tines of a fork, to seal. At this stage the ravioli can be refrigerated or frozen until required. Place them in a single layer on a tray lined with baking paper. Separate layers with baking paper and cover all with plastic wrap.

Place crushed pink peppercorns in a large deep frying pan. Heat until aromatic, then add butter, stirring until dissolved and beginning to sizzle.

Add lemon juice and turn off heat.

To cook ravioli, heat a large pot of water until simmering. Drop in julienned leek and cook 2 minutes. Remove with tongs and return to colander. Cook ravioli in small batches in the same water. Drop them into the pot and cook for 2 minutes after they rise to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to peppered butter mixture in pan. Turn to coat with butter. Repeat with remaining batches. Serve as an entree garnished with poached leek and wild salmon caviar.

Note: You can also use a 270g pack (40 pieces) square Shanghai wonton wrappers. Reduce the amount of filling in each one slightly, or make a little more.

  LEEK AND BREAD PUDDING

 

Serves 8-10 as a side dish

2 small batard loaves, sliced
(alternatively, 12 slices of sourdough
or brioche cut into 2cm-thick slices
would do)
¼ cup olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, halved, for rubbing
25g butter
4 leeks, white parts only, rinsed
well and sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
100mL dry white wine
2 cups gruyère cheese, grated
2 cups milk
2 cups thickened cream
6 eggs
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Preheat oven to 170°C.

Brush slices of bread with olive oil. Place on a baking tray and bake for 30 minutes or until completely dry. Rub slices of dried bread with garlic, set aside. Melt butter in a medium-sized saucepan over low heat.

Add the leek and garlic and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the wine, bring to the boil. Cook until reduced by half, set aside. In a large bowl, lightly whisk the eggs, add the milk, cream, a generous pinch of salt, pepper, the oregano and nutmeg. Mix to combine. Arrange six slices of bread in a lightly greased 25cm x 30cm baking tray. Spread half the leeks over the bread, followed by half the grated cheese.

Pour enough of the custard mixture to cover and let stand for 10 minutes. Arrange remaining bread slices overlapping on top. Cover with remaining leeks and cheese. Pour over custard. Allow to stand 10 minute longer before placing into preheated oven. Bake until golden brown and set, about 1¼ to 1½ hours.

 LEEK AND CHICKPEA SOUP

Serves 6

1½ tablespoons olive oil
25g butter
3 leeks, white parts only, washed
and sliced
2 cloves garlic, fi nely sliced
400g can chickpeas, rinsed and
drained
1 litre chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan

Chives, finely sliced to garnish Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan. Add the leeks, cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the garlic and cook a further 10 minutes or until the leeks are soft. Add the drained chickpeas and three cups of chicken stock, bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Process half of the soup in a food processor until smooth. Return soup to pan with the remainder chunky soup, add more stock to achieve the consistency you like and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Stir through grated Parmesan and cook until heated through. Serve with Parmesan toast or crusty bread.

 ROASTED LEEK, CAPSICUM & HALOUMI FRITTATA

Serves 8

3 leeks, white parts only, cut in half
crosswise then in half lengthwise
2 red capsicum, seeded and cut into
wide strips
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt
120g haloumi cheese, coarsely grated
6 eggs
2⁄3 cup thickened cream
½ cup shredded basil

Freshly ground black pepper Preheat oven to 180°C. Place the leek and capsicum in a large roasting pan. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt, toss to combine. Roast for 40 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Cool (leave oven on 180°C). Lightly grease a 25cm non-stick ovenproof frying pan. Arrange roasted vegetables in the pan and sprinkle over grated cheese. To make frittata, combine eggs, cream, basil and pepper, whisk well.

Pour mixture over the vegetables and cook on low heat for 10 minutes. Transfer to oven and cook for 40 minutes or until golden brown and firm. Serve with salad.

 CHICKEN AND LEEK POT PIES

Serves 4

1k g chicken thigh fi llets, cut into
bite-size chunks
1⁄3 cup plain flour, seasoned with
salt and pepper
3 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, white parts only, cut in half
lengthwise and then sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 cup chicken stock
1 heaped tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup thickened cream
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon milk,
to glaze

Coat chicken pieces with seasoned flour and shake away excess. In a heavy-based saucepan, heat two tablespoons of olive oil and brown chicken in batches. Remove chicken from saucepan. Heat a tablespoon more of olive oil in the pan, add leeks and garlic and cook, stirring over low heat for 10 minutes or until leeks are soft. Add the wine, mustard and stock.

Stir well to scrape up all the crunchy bits on the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken to the pot, bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes. Add the parsley, thyme and cream, season to taste and cook over low heat for a further five minutes. Set aside to cool. Preheat oven to 200°C. To assemble the pot pies, cut the puff pastry into rounds by tracing around the top of the ramekins onto the pastry.

Spoon the chicken mixture into lightly greased, one-cup-capacity ramekins. Top each filled ramekin with pastry. Press firmly around the rim to seal. Cut slits into the top of each pastry lid and brush with egg wash. Bake pies in a preheated oven for 30 minutes or until pastry is golden brown. Cool slightly before serving.

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