Reaching peak leek
Probably the most underrated of the alliums, leeks are sweet, delicate and perfect at this time of the year, says Rachel Allen, who has some delicious recipes for you to try. Photography by Tony Gavin
The allium family is one of the most successful and renowned of the entire food spectrum. Onions form the basis of more dishes than probably any other vegetable; garlic is used as a flavouring across the world, and shallots, chives and spring onions find their way into multiple soups, salads, sauces and salsas. The lovely leek, though, while not as popular as its cousins, is just as versatile, with its sweet, delicate flavour that can melt into risottos, gratins, stews and all sorts of soups.
The preparation of leeks isn’t difficult, but it requires a few important steps. First, cut off the dark green tops. They work well for making stock, but otherwise they tend to be a bit too strong and tough for use in cooking. Then trim off the muddy roots, before peeling off the outer tough layers. Washing leeks is also fundamentally important. As they grow, they trap soil in between their sheaths, so a good clean is a must. The best way to wash leeks is to use a knife to make a slit halfway down the leek, then fold out the layers beneath a running tap and make sure all the dirt has washed away.
Leeks, which are slap-bang in season now, are also lovely on their own, split in half and grilled while they are small and young with butter and sea salt — or my favourite way to cook them, which is sliced and gently sauteed with butter or olive oil and a tiny splash of water. Leeks can also be eaten raw, if used carefully — thinly slice the white part and use it as an alternative to raw red onion or spring onions in salads.
The leek, potato and blue cheese soup, right, is a variation of the classic leek and potato soup, meaning, intriguingly, ‘ good woman soup’! It has a more intense flavour than simply leek and potato soup; the blue cheese brings a lovely salty tang. We have a superb range of blue cheeses in Ireland (see Rachel Recommends, far right) so check out one of those for a home-grown version.
The leek and cheese fritters, pictured above right, make a delicious light meal or snack. If possible, use leeks that aren’t too huge for the most sweet and tender result. And the chicken with leeks, bacon and brandy recipe, far right, is a most comforting and luxurious dish that does delicious justice to the national emblem of Wales.
potage bonne femme,