Photos by Zachary Cross
In 2007 Crabtree Farms first offered CSA shares. We wanted to support local food, and we loved the convenient location (about 10 minutes away), so we signed up. It was so much fun to go pick up our box of food each week, check out the farm, and get to know folks at Crabtree. We had been cooking from scratch for a long time, and I grew up with plenty of fresh food, but it was still quite the learning curve for us! We had four kids at home and our youngest was still a baby. Some weeks we weren’t so sure what to do with our food or we just ran out of time to use one week’s produce before the next came in. Amazingly, we did not have anything go bad on us that year but some weeks we had a lot to work with!
One week I listened to a review of Jack Bishop’s Vegetables Every Day and decided to check it out of the library. This cookbook is arranged in alphabetical order, one chapter per vegetable, 66 vegetables (or groups of vegetables), and at least 365 recipes total. Whenever we had a vegetable that puzzled us we were usually able to find a recipe or even several for it. I decided pretty quickly that it was a cookbook worth purchasing for our family.
One vegetable we had not worked with much in the past and found in our share was the leek. A member of the allium family, along with garlic and onions, leeks are sweeter and can stand alone as well as accompany other ingredients. Preparing and serving them on their own is generally my preferred way of making them. The sweet, oniony flavor shines through and rewards my prep work and cleaning.
Preparing leeks is not quite as simple as peeling an onion or clove of garlic. Dirt tends to get in leek’s layers and needs to be flushed out. Thankfully Bishop includes a method for getting leeks clean. Here’s how Bishop says to do it:
“Trim and discard the dark green tops and tough outer leaves from the leeks. Remove the roots along with a very thin slice of the nearby white part. (If you are slicing the leeks for soup, you can remove a thicker slice. However, if you are cooking halved leeks, don’t remove too much from the bottom or the layers will fall apart.)
"Halve the leeks lengthwise and wash them under cold, running water. Gently spread apart but do not separate the inner layers to remove all traces of soil. If the leeks are particularly sandy, soak them in several changes of clean water. At this point the leeks are ready to be cooked or sliced further for use in soups or as a seasoning.”
The only things I would add are to remove any tough outer layers (these do not soften well during cooking) and don’t discard your leek trimmings. Use them to make yummy vegetable or meat stock.
Once prepped the leeks can be simply cooked in butter in a covered skillet. That’s enough to enjoy leek’s flavor but that flavor can be taken up a notch. Bishop has a recipe for red wine braised leeks but that flavor combination doesn’t make sense to me (try it if it does to you - to each his or her own!). I’ve added some white wine to my sauteed leeks at the end of cooking, simmering just long enough to reduce the wine a bit and allow the leeks to soak up some flavor. Yum! Bishop has another variation on the sauteed and that is to add parmesan cheese to the leeks and broil briefly until browned. I used asiago instead but otherwise followed his instructions. Yum again! The whites were creamy and the greens crisp and browned. Here’s the original recipe, plus the variations.
From Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop
The leeks are cooked in a covered pan with a little butter until almost tender, then the lid is removed and the leeks are cooked until lightly browned. Don’t try this recipe with leeks thicker than ¾ inch; they won’t soften properly. Serve with chicken or fish. (note from Heather: I think thicker leeks would be fine; you’ll be removing a good bit of the outer layers. Perhaps cook longer under cover)
4 medium leeks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Freshly ground pepper
Variation: Crispy Leeks with Parmesan (pictured below)
An excellent accompaniment to egg dishes
Preheat the broiler. Prepare the leeks as directed, through step 3, cooking them in an ovenproof skillet. Dust the browned leeks with ⅓ cup grated Parmesan (note from Heather: I used Asiago and a little bit more) and broil until the cheese is golden brown and bubbly, no more than a few minutes. Serve immediately.
Printable recipe here
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