Milder and more tender than their onion cousins, leeks have a delicate flavor that’s as subtle as it is versatile. They’re an essential ingredient of the classic French mirepoix, which forms the base of soups and stews, but leeks can also be the star of the show when prepared simply, cooked whole and served as a side dish. Here are our best tips for working with leeks, plus a few favorite recipes for winter and spring.
Look for: Choose leeks on the smaller side, with firm, dark green leaves and roots that are pliable and light in color. Keep them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Prep tips: Since they grow partly underground, leeks need more than a quick rinse under the faucet. Trim off the roots and the tough, dark green tops of the leaves. If the outer layer is wilted or discolored, peel it away and discard. Quarter or halve the stalk lengthwise. If using the leek whole, leave the root end intact. Rinse the leek well under cold running water, separating the layers and rubbing the leaves to remove any silt between them. If a recipe calls for sliced leeks, slice the white and lighter green parts crosswise.
Cooking: Gentle cooking preserves the tender texture and flavor of leeks, so they often star in recipes for soups, salads and side dishes with potatoes or rice. Young leeks can be harvested as shoots and used raw, like chives.
Variations: Come spring, check your local farmers’ market for wild leeks, or ramps. Their bulbs have a garlic-onion flavor, and the stems are more delicate. Make the most of their super-short season by sauteing ramps whole in oil, grinding them into a pesto, simmering them in soups or pickling them.
Marinated Grilled Baby Leeks
16 baby leeks, rinsed well
2 Tbs. sherry vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 Tbs. minced chives
1 Tbs. minced fresh chervil or flat-leaf parsley, plus whole leaves for sprinkling
1/2 cup peppery extra-virgin olive oil
Trim the root ends from the leeks, leaving just enough attached to keep the leeks from falling apart.
In a rectangular glass baking dish, combine the vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, 1 Tbs. of the chives and the minced chervil. Whisk together until well blended. Add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream and whisk to blend. Place the leeks in the dish and toss to coat them well. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and marinate the leeks at room temperature for at least 1 hour or refrigerate for up to overnight.
About 15 minutes before you plan to serve the leeks, prepare a medium-hot fire in a grill.
Remove the leeks from the marinade, shaking off any excess, and reserve the marinade. Arrange the leeks on the grill rack and cook until tender and nicely browned, 5 to 6 minutes, turning occasionally to cook them evenly.
Transfer the leeks to a warmed platter and drizzle lightly with some of the remaining marinade. Sprinkle with the remaining chives and the chervil leaves. Serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 4.
|Savory Leek & Gruyère Soufflé
Baked with eggs and sharp Gruyere cheese until puffed and golden, this souffle makes an impressive addition to a dinner party menu.
|Goat Cheese, Leek and Mushroom Tart
Cut this savory tart into squares and serve with an apéritif before a meal. The filling can be spread onto flatbread dough or sheets of puff pastry.
Baked and served in individual dishes, this cheesy gratin is delicious with roasted meats and poultry. Be sure to use small young leeks.
|Risotto with Leeks and Sugar Snaps
A creamy risotto is a great way to feature thinly sliced leeks. This one includes diced pancetta and tarragon for maximum flavor.