Wednesday, February 9, 2011

There are leeks in my cellar floor!

   Well not any more!  Until just recently, there were leeks in my cellar floor, there are still plenty of leaks in my cellar floor, but no leeks.  A little confusing I know.  We have quite a large vegetable garden in my back yard, and every summer we grow large quantities of various vegetables.  We do the standard tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and of course zucchini.  So much zucchini!  But we also grow beets, rhubarb, Swiss chard, string beans, various winter squashes and for the past two years, my beloved leeks.  I fell in love with leeks about 2 years ago.   I made Julia Child's Potage Parmentier or potato and leek soup and I was changed.  This soup is just so very tasty, wicked delicious!  I soon found that the leeks I was finding at the supermarket were more often sub-par than not.  Quite frustrated with the lack of quality leeks I decided that they should make an appearance in the garden.  The leeks came up quite well even though we had a very wet and cold summer.  They again were featured this past summer, this year getting 2 large rows.  Leeks however take a while.  They are a fall vegetable.  Fall brings the frost in New England so I had quite a few more leeks than I was going to be able to eat in the time allotted by the weather in my climate region.  So a plan I did hatch.  I would take these leeks, box them up, and that box would go live in a cold section of my cellar and would be there when I wanted to use them at a later date.  

The box came to live in a hole in my cellar floor, left over from the time my father tried to dig a well there.  The well never came to be, and the hole was mostly filled in, save for a large dip where a chunk of concrete floor no longer lives.   I will admit, i kinda forgot about my leeks for a while.  Two days after pulling them out of the ground (in the rain mind you) I left for a 15 day vacation, and leeks weren't really on my mind.  (oysters however were, but that's a story for another time)  The the other evening I was reminded of my waiting leeks and decided that I would put them to use if they hadn't gone bad.  This is what I pulled out of the hole in my cellar floor.

   Now this leek definitely looks well past its prime and not particularly appetizing, but what lies within is a great surprise!

   Looking pretty good for leeks that have been sitting in my cellar for 4 months.  I wanted to do something with these leeks that I had never done before, i decided on braising.  I more or less used Julia's recipe for braised leeks.  

Julia Child's braised Leeks
easily serves 4 

12 leeks (more or less)
6 Tbsp butter cut into pieces
QS salt
Fresh thyme or parsley

   Start with removing the tough leaves and roots from the leek.  If the outer layer of skin is dry remove it.  You are looking to only use the white and light green portion of the leek.  The length you are aiming for is about 6-7 inches long, but your leeks may vary.  Split the leeks down the center and then holding the leek at the root end swish around in some water in an attempt to dislodge any dirt particles.  Be sure to hold the ends of the leek halves so they do not fall apart.  

  After you have rinsed the leeks you are going to layer them cut side down in a fairly deep flameproof casserole dish with a lid.  You don't have to specifically use a casserole dish, just a flameproof cooking vessel with a lid that can be used on the stove top.  The lid does not need to be a tight seal, as it is suppose to be ajar anyway.  You will end up layering the leeks in 2-3 layers depending on the size of your cooking vessel and how many leeks you are using.   Pour enough water into the dish to bring the water level 2/3 the way up the leeks.  Sprinkle your butter and salt over the top of the leeks and cover your vessel with the lid slightly ajar. 

 Bring your leeks to a simmer on the stove top and continue to cook until the white ends are tender and you can easily pierce them with a paring knife.  Now Julia claims this should take 20-30 min, and that most of your cooking liquid will have boiled away.  I always believe Julia, but my leeks took much less time and there was more than 1/2 the liquid left.  When your leeks have become tender move the leeks to a large shallow baking dish in one layer.  And pour the remaining cooking liquid over the leeks.  As I mentioned, I had a excess of cooking liquid.  If this happens to you, you have a few options.  The butter would not have boiled off during the stove top simmer so you can simply add 2 tablespoon of butter to your dish, which is what I did.  If you are not under a time crunch you can boil down the cooking liquid until there is only a little water left in the liquid, and then pour this on your leeks.  The Leeks now go into a 325F oven for 20 min or until they have browned slightly.  My leeks were very Tender already so I choose to stick them under the broiler for a short time until browned.  If you use this method, be sure to keep an eye on your leeks.  I am seriously addicted to my broiler, so I have a pretty good mental timer for using it with various foods, but generally you want to keep an eye on anything you put under a broiler.  After browning, remove the dish from the oven and sprinkle thyme or chopped parsley over the leeks. 

   You can serve them immediately or Julia tells us they can be re-heated later.  I don't think the dish would suffer any from re-heating so it seems like sound advice.  

   The Leeks were delicious.  They have a nice smooth texture and subtle flavors.  I will certainly make this dish again.  The recipe gives variations involving adding cheese or cheese sauce at the point you put the leeks in the oven.  I plan on trying those variations, but I think I prefer the braised leeks as is.  It is difficult to imagine that this dish could be improved.  I used my left over cooking liquid on some buttery potatoes.  I simply boiled some small Yukon gold potatoes skin on and boiled down my cooking liquid until there was very little water left.  When the potatoes were done but not mushy, I drained and quartered them.  I then simply sauteed the potatoes in the cooking liquid with some salt, pepper and thyme. 

    The leek flavor in the cooking liquid adds an interesting flavor to the potatoes without causing the potatoes and leeks to taste the same.  The leeks and potatoes were served with spiral cut ham and fresh popovers.  The ham wasn't anything special, just a supermarket ham with a jazzed up packet of glaze.  The popovers were Alton Brown's recipe and came out pretty tasty.  

   Looking at this evening's plate picture I've realized that perhaps i should invest in a few new dishes that are free of my mothers pink tulip pattern.  That's going onto the to-do list.

   Wine update Day 5:  The wine has gone from pretty clear to opaque and smells of alcohol.  It seems well in its way to becoming wine.  
Happy cooking!

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