Leeks add a delicate spring taste to foods

A wide variety of dishes will benefit from the mild, onion-like flavor imparted by this versatile vegetable

    Leeks are a delicate food, one that can add a subtle touch to virtually every dish on the table.
    These versatile vegetables add a unique, sweet and mild onion flavor to a huge range of dishes.
    That’s because they’re alliums, related to garlic, chives, shallots and onions, but with a milder flavor. They’re at their peak in spring and fall.
    Leeks are perhaps most noted for their role in soups — most notably potato leek soup — where they add a depth of flavor.
    They are a classic ingredient in risotto, and are showcased in many pasta dishes.
    You can grill or roast them  as a side dish, serve them with romesco sauce or pesto and complement many egg dishes. Fold sautéed leeks into an omelet or scrambled eggs or add them to a veggie frittata.
    They’re also delicious as a pizza topping, especially if you’re looking for a more mild taste than onions provide.
    Of course, you can always enjoy them on their own.
    To grill them, slice them in half lengthwise, rinse and dry them well and grill both sides on medium-high until they’re well-charred and tender.
    To roast them, halve them lengthwise, chop them into one-inch chunks, and wash them. Toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper and bake in a 425-degree oven for about 20 minutes, until they’re tender.
    Or sauté them in olive oil over medium heat for about five minutes, until they soften.
    For each of these methods, use only the white and light green parts of the leeks, not the dark leaves. But don’t throw them away — they will add considerable flavor to homemade vegetable stock.
    One important thing when using leeks — clean them thoroughly. Dirt and grit will hide in the leaves.
    Leeks may seem intimidating, but they’re easy to use. Slice them in half lengthwise, then chop off the stringy roots and dark green leaves. Lay the white and light green parts, cut-side-down, on a cutting board and cut them into thin half-moons.
    Place them in a colander and rinse them under cool running water, tossing them to remove any dirt or debris. When clean, use a paper towel or kitchen towel to blot them dry before you start to cook.
    Following are recipes that feature leeks from thekitchn.com.



Vibrant Spring Minestrone

1 head garlic
1 medium yellow onion
1 medium fennel bulb with fronds
2 medium or 4 small leeks
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 bay leaf
8 cups water
2-3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 medium lemon
1 15-ounce can white beans, such as cannellini or Great Northern
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
Freshly ground black pepper
Large handful pea shoots, optional
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, optional

    Halve the garlic down its equator to expose all the cloves. Quarter but do not peel the onion. Coarsely chop 1/4 cup fennel fronds. Quarter one fennel bulb, then cut the core out of each piece. Set aside the core and the outermost layer of each piece. Thinly slice the remaining fennel.
    Coarsely chop the dark green parts of the  leeks until you have two cups, then rinse thoroughly. Halve the light green and white parts of the leeks lengthwise, then slice crosswise into 1/2-inch wide half-moons. Place in a medium bowl, cover with cool water, and swish vigorously with your hands to loosen any dirt. Set aside.
    Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add garlic and onion pieces, cut-side down, and cook five minutes, until dark golden brown, flipping the onion halfway through so it browns on both cut sides.
    Add the fennel core and outer layer, dark green leek parts, bay leaf and water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover partially so steam can escape. Simmer 30 to 40 minutes, until the broth is browned and fragrant.
    Finely zest the lemon, then cut lemon into wedges. Drain and rinse the white beans. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large pot over medium heat until shimmering, then add the sliced fennel and cook about five minutes, stirring frequently, until the fennel just begins to brown. Carefully remove the light green and white parts of the leeks from the water, taking care to leave the grit in the bowl, and add to the pot along with the lemon zest and one teaspoon kosher salt. Cook seven to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are soft. Remove from the heat.
    Strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer set over the pot of leeks and discard the solids left in the strainer. Add the beans and remaining kosher salt to the soup, bring to a gentle simmer and cook 10 minutes. Add peas and simmer five minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in the fennel fronds.
    Ladle soup into bowls and season generously with freshly ground black pepper. Top with a small handful of pea shoots and grated Pecorino cheese, if desired. Serve with the lemon wedges.
    Makes four servings.


Crispy Ginger Rice With Leeks, Shiitakes and a Fried Egg

1/2 cup long-grain rice
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup diced fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 heaping tablespoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup thinly sliced leeks, white parts only
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

    Cook rice according to the instructions, then let it sit uncovered in the refrigerator a minimum of an hour and up to overnight.
    In a 10 to 12-inch sauté pan, heat one tablespoon butter and the vegetable oil over medium heat until foaming. Add shiitakes. Shake the pan once, then let the mushrooms sit and caramelize two minutes. Add ginger and one tablespoon butter followed by the cooked rice. Press into a thin layer. Place the garlic, leeks, chili flakes and 1/2 teaspoon salt on top.
    After three minutes, turn up a little of the rice on the edge of the pan with a spatula to make sure it has started to turn a slight golden color has a crispy texture, stir in the ingredients that were sitting on top, then press into a homogenous layer. Cook two minutes, then remove from the heat.
    In a 10-inch skillet, melt the remaining butter over medium heat until foaming. Crack the eggs on opposite sides of the pan. Cook gently about two minutes, until the whites are set. Sprinkle with the remaining salt.
    Fluff the rice and serve under a runny egg. Garnish with cilantro.
    Makes two servings.

Sweet Corn Risotto

3 medium ears corn, shucked
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 large leek, white and light green parts chopped and rinsed
1-1/4 cups arborio rice
1/4 cup dry vermouth
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Olive oil

    Cut the kernals from the cobs. Place stock and stripped corn cobs in a pot over high heat, breaking the cobs in half if needed. Once the broth comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the cobs, scraping along the length of the cobs with a spoon or spatula to remove any extra liquid.
    Coat the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed pot with olive oil and place over medium heat. Once hot, add the leek and a pinch of salt and sauté about five minutes, until tender. Add rice and sauté another two minutes. Add the vermouth and cook one minute, stirring, until almost evaporated.
    Add a ladle of stock to the rice. Stirring often, continue adding stock as the rice absorbs each addition until the mixture is creamy and the rice is cooked through but still firm, about 30 minutes. Stir in butter, cheese and corn kernels. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve warm.
    Makes four servings.
    To substitute frozen corn kernels, skip the step with the corn cobs. Stir in 12 ounces  frozen corn kernels with the final ladle of stock. Heat until kernels are warmed through.


Asparagus, Prosciutto and Goat Cheese Frittata

8 large eggs
1/3 cup whole or 2% milk
4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto ham, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large leek, white and light green parts only, cleaned and thinly sliced into half moons
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled

    Whisk eggs and milk together in a large bowl. Add prosciutto, breaking up any clumps. Stir to combine and set aside.
    Heat oil in a 10 to 12-inch cast-iron or oven-safe nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add leek and sauté five minutes, until softened. Add asparagus, salt and pepper and sauté three to five minutes, until the asparagus is tender.
    Spread vegetables in an even layer, then pour egg mixture over the top. Tilt the pan to ensure the eggs and prosciutto spread evenly. Sprinkle goat cheese evenly over the top. Cook about two minutes, undisturbed, until the eggs at the edge of the pan begin to set.
    Transfer skillet to a rack set in the top third of a 350-degree oven and bake 20 minutes, until eggs are just set. To check, cut a small slit in the center of the frittata. If raw eggs run into the cut, bake another minute or two.
    Heat the broiler to high. Broil two to three minutes, until the top of the frittata is light golden-brown in spots. Cool in the pan for five minutes, then slice into wedges and serve warm.
    Makes six servings.

Potato Leek Soup

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
3 medium leeks
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 dried bay leaf
1 quart low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives

    Peel potatoes, then cut into one-inch pieces. Place in a large bowl and cover with cold water.
    Thinly slice the white and light green parts of the leeks. Melt butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat, then add the leeks and onion and cook about 25 minutes, stirring often, until softened and begin to caramelize. Add the garlic and cook about five minutes, until fragrant and softened.
    Drain the potatoes in a fine-mesh strainer or colander set over a bowl. Reserve the starchy potato water.
    Add the drained potatoes, kosher salt, black pepper, fresh thyme, bay leaf and broth to the pot, and stir to combine. Increase the heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer 18 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes are fork-tender. Remove from the heat and let cool 10 minutes.
    Working in batches, blend the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return the blended soup to the pot. Add 1-1/2 cups reserved potato water and heavy cream to the soup. Cook over medium heat about 10 minutes, until warmed through. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve topped with the chives.
    Makes four to six servings.


Make-Ahead Bacon and Leek Casserole

1 pound day-old French or Italian bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 large leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and thinly sliced into half moons
1 teaspoon kosher salt
10 ounces bacon, diced
12 large eggs
3 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups grated fontina cheese

    Place cubed bread in an even layer in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish that’s been coated with cooking spray. Set aside.
    Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add leeks and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook five to seven minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Transfer to a small bowl.
    Add bacon to the skillet and sauté 10 minutes, until the fat is almost all rendered and it begins to get crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
    Whisk eggs, milk, mustard, thyme, remaining salt and pepper in a large bowl.
    Spread the bacon over the bread cubes, followed by leeks. Sprinkle fontina on top, then pour the egg mixture over the top. Press down on the top gently, so all the bread cubes get soaked a bit with the egg mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight or, if baking immediately, let the casserole rest on the counter while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
    Bake 50 to 65 minutes, uncovered, until the edges are bubbling and the top begins to brown. Check the interior with a knife — if it comes out clean, the custard is baked through. Cover with aluminum foil near the end of baking if the top is already browned. Let cool five minutes before serving.
    Makes 10 to 12 servings.
    The casserole can be assembled, covered tightly with aluminum foil and refrigerated overnight before baking. Uncover and bring to room temperature before baking.


Pasta With Leeks, Fennel, Tomatoes and Guanciale

Kosher salt
1 medium leek
1 small fennel bulb
8 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small fresh red bird’s eye or Thai chile, halved lengthwise
3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
3-1/2 ounces guanciale or pancetta, cut into thin matchsticks
12 ounces dried rigatoni or other short pasta
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

    Quarter the leek lengthwise. Cut the white parts crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. Halve the fennel bulb. Dice one half and very thinly slice the other half.
    Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over low heat until shimmering. Add guanciale and cook about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown.Using a slotted spoon, transfer guanciale to a plate and cover.
    Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan. Add the leek, chopped fennel, chile and a large pinch of kosher salt. Increase heat to medium and cook about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until fennel and leeks are very soft but not browned. Remove and discard the chile.
    Add the remaining olive oil, tomatoes and a large pinch of kosher salt to the pan. Cook seven to eight minutes, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have broken down and are mostly soft.
    Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add rigatoni and cook until al dente.
    Add thinly sliced fennel to the sauce and cook three minutes. If pasta is not ready yet, remove the sauce from the heat.
    Reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta. Add pasta to the sauce and toss to combine over low heat. If you prefer the pasta a bit saucier, add the reserved pasta water, a tablespoon at a time, until it reaches the desired consistency.
    Remove from the heat, add Parmesan cheese and toss to combine. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with parsley and guanciale. Serve immediately.
    Makes four servings.
    To make this recipe vegetarian, omit the guanciale. Cook the leek, fennel and chile in three tablespoons olive oil before proceeding to the next step.


Creamy Spring Vegetable Gratin With Grana Padano

2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed
2 large leeks
2 large russet potatoes, peeled
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated Grana Padano cheese

    Using a mandoline or very sharp knife, cut the fennel bulb into thin slices. Cut each leek in half lengthwise and rinse to remove any grit. Pat dry. Slice leek halves into one-inch-wide half moons and separate each layer.
    Slice potatoes as thin as the fennel. Toss potatoes, leeks and fennel in a large bowl with the onion and garlic. Stir in sour cream, salt, nutmeg, pepper and cheese. The mixture will be thick and just barely covered with the cheese and sour cream. Scrape into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish that’s been lightly coated with olive oil, then cover tightly with foil.
    Bake in a 400-degree oven for 45 minutes, then remove the foil and bake an additional 15 minutes to let the top brown. Let stand for 10 minutes, then serve hot.
    Makes six to eight servings.




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