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Friday, October 7

Gapers Block

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Editor's note: this column was originally published on March 9, 2004.

As the winter comes to an end, it gets harder and harder to find vegetables that aren't colorless, flavorless, and lackluster. We've been getting a twice monthly box of fresh fruit and vegetables from a local organic market, which is keeping our refrigerator happy and our cooking skills honed. It's also requiring me to find recipes for vegetables that I've never cooked in my life.

I've found myself returning to my cooking bible (Joy of Cooking) looking for interesting recipes and information for these rarely used vegetables. In our most recent box, we got leeks. I didn't think I'd ever eaten them, let alone cooked with them, and I was stumped and looking for more information than JOC (pronounced Jacques) could provide.

Leeks are a member of the onion family, but a distant cousin of what we think of flavor-wise. They look like overgrown scallions, green onions, but they're much more mild. In fact, it appears to take quite a bit of the white stalk to�make much of a flavor addition. The white and the light green bits on the stalk are what most recipes will call for. The stalks, dark green and lightly fragrant, are best used to flavor soups or stocks and then removed. If you don't plan on using them within about three weeks of purchase, cut the leaves off, put them in a zipper bag and store them in the freezer. The next time you go to make a soup just toss the leaves in and then fish them out before serving.

The annoying thing about leeks is that they like to collect dirt in their stems. Because their leaves are tightly wrapped it is a lot easier for dirt to get in than it is for you to get it out. Cleaning them is highly important, unless you like eating mud. By cutting off the roots and about 1/4 inch of the stem you should be able to see if there is a lot of dirt collected in the stem. If there is, you might have to take each leaf off and clean it. Another way to go about this is to cut off the roots, cut off the�dark green leaves, slice the stem lengthwise and float the portions in ice water. The dirt should sink to the bottom of the bowl.

Since leeks are mild in flavor, the texture needs to be preserved. Overcooking them gets you a lumpy, mushy, unappealing paste with fibers in it. You want to be able to pierce it with a fork but not be able to mash it.

I'll present two recipes, both of which are frighteningly simple and wonderfully delicious. The first recipe sounds like a difficult French dish, but it isn't. Vichyssoise is actually a recipe created in America by a French chef and is so easy and yummy. It calls for a bit of cream, but the cream can be omitted and you'll still get a wonderful soup. The second recipe is leek and asparagus frittata. It's a lot easier than it sounds as well, and frittatas aren't just for breakfast.

Potato and leek soup with cream (Vichyssoise) Serves 2-3
2 tablespoons butter
4 leeks, sliced and washed
2 potatoes, peeled and chunked
Salt and pepper
2 16 oz. cans chicken/vegetable broth or 8 cups water
1 cup heavy cream

In a large pot, melt the butter. Add the leeks and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Add water or broth and bring to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20-30 minutes. (The smaller the potatoes, the faster this will cook.) To get a smooth texture, you can either use a handheld mixer or stick blender to beat the lumps out of the soup or let the soup cool and place it in a blender and puree. Return soup to the pot (if necessary) and stir in the cream. If you decide to leave out the cream, I would recommend using broth for the soup or it will taste thin. Traditional Vichyssoise, with cream, is served cold, but it tastes just as wonderful hot and dairy-free.

Asparagus and Leek Frittata Serves 1 (easily doubled)
1 stalk of asparagus, bottom removed and chopped into 1/2-inch bites
1/2 cup thinly sliced white and pale green part of leek, washed well and drained
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons coarsely grated Gruyere
1 teaspoon chopped chives (or small garlic clove)
a pinch of dried parsley (or fresh, chopped)
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil

You'll want to steam the asparagus bits for about 7 minutes, or boil them for about 4. In a skillet (one that's oven-safe -- no plastic) cook the leek in the butter over medium heat, stirring, for 12 to 15 minutes, or until it is very soft, and add salt and pepper to taste. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, add 1/2 of the Parmesan, 1/2 of the Gruyere, the chives, the parsley, salt and pepper and whisk the mixture until it is combined well. In the skillet, add and heat the olive oil over moderate heat until it is hot but not smoking. Pour in the egg mixture, distributing the asparagus and leeks evenly, and cook the frittata, without stirring, for 6 to 8 minutes or until the edge is set but the center is still soft. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan and Gruyere over the top. Broil the frittata under a preheated broiler about 4 inches from the heat for 4 to 5 minutes. Take it out of the oven, run a thin knife around the edge, and slide the frittata onto a serving plate. Cut the frittata into wedges and serve it warm or at room temperature. Bon appétite!

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anne / February 18, 2008 3:30 PM

Nice. I just made Potato and Leek soup for the first time yesterday, in fact. I used a recipe that used basically the same ingredients, plus some marjoram, thyme, garlic and then finished it with sour cream instead of heavy cream (which also meant all I had to buy at the store was the leeks). It had a nice tang to it, and since I used reduced fat sour cream, I'm thinking less calories per bowl. I'm glad to have some other leek recipes to use though, I'm likin' the leek!

Alex / February 19, 2008 8:40 PM

I just bought some leeks for the first time ever and thought, "Now what?"

Thanks, lady! :D

tiffany / August 12, 2009 5:46 AM

It had a nice tang to it, and since I used reduced fat sour cream, I'm thinking less calories per bowl.


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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