Monday, January 25, 2010

The delicious leek

Onions and garlic are ubiquitous ingredients in savory dishes from many cultures around the world. The leek, however, seems to be almost ignored except by the French, of course, who use leeks in stock making and the famous soup, Vichyssoise, that is traditionally served cold. Leeks provide lots of vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin K, vitamin A, iron, magnesium and fiber. The only downside for leeks is that they contain, for vegetables anyway, a larger than normal amount of sodium. Since leeks are widely available throughout the winter months from local growers in Northern California, it is a vegetable that will provide a new level of flavor and texture to your cooking if you embrace it. I especially like the dry-farmed leeks sold by Dirty Girl Produce at the San Francisco Farmer’s market. Their leeks are small, tender and succulent.

Include leeks in pretty much any dish calling for onions that are sweated in butter or oil in the foundation of the dish. The leeks add another dimension of flavor and silkiness to the finished dish, which is why I add leeks to stocks whenever I can get my hands on them. In her ponderous tome The New Making of a Cook, Madeline Kamman instructs to “add as many leeks as you can afford” to stocks (especially veal stock) along with the traditional carrots, celery, and onions. Your soups and sauces will burst with flavor when leeks are included.

Leeks grow partially underground and partially above ground so they tend to get mud into the stalk. The structure of the leek invites the dirt downward, so cleaning is a key to using leeks. To prepare a leek, cut the dark green tops off and discard as they are bitter. Then slice the light part of the vegetable in half from root to top and wash thoroughly while gently separating layers to remove all grit. For stock, simply remove a bit of the root part and toss the halves into the pot with the rest of the vegetables. For sauté, chop the leek into ¼ pieces.

Our favorite leek dish is the warm version of Vichyssoise called potato leek soup. This hearty soup makes a complete nutritious meal. Be sure to use your own gelatin-rich chicken stock to get the flavor, mouth-feel, and health benefits from the home made version of this important foundational ingredient. The following recipe is easily adjusted to become Vichyssoise by omitting the parsley, using heavy cream and serving the finished soup cold with snips of chives.

Leek and Potato Soup (Vichyssoise)
Yield: Serves 2 generously

1 medium boiling potato (about 1/2 pound)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 medium onion, chopped fine
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 medium leeks (white parts only), halved lengthwise, washed well, and sliced thin crosswise
2 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth
3 tablespoons half and half (or cream for Vichyssoise)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leafed parsley leaves (wash and dry before chopping)
Note: For Vichyssoise, omit parsley and add snips of fresh chives.

Peel potato and dice fine. In a 3 1/2- to 4-quart saucepan cook garlic and onion and leek in butter over moderately low heat, stirring, until onion is softened. Add potato and cook, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. Stir in stock or broth and simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes, or until potato is very tender.

If desired, in a blender purée soup in batches until very smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids), transferring to another saucepan. Stir in cream, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste and heat over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until hot. Serve immediately.

For Vichyssoise, puree the soup until smooth and season with salt and white pepper to taste. Chill. Add snips of chive to bowls filled with the soup and serve.

Leek on FoodistaLeek

Leek and Potato Soup (Vichyssoise)

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