Wednesday, September 08, 2010
Leeks are related to garlic and onions but have a much subtler, sweeter and more sophisticated flavour. They can be used to enrich soups or stews and they partner brilliantly with potato and with cheese to form tasty side-dishes and suppers that comfort and satisfy throughout the autumn and winter.
Leeks are an excellent source of vitamin C as well as iron and fibre. They provide many of the health-giving benefits associated with garlic and onions, such as promoting the functioning of the blood and the heart.
Go for small or medium size leeks; large leeks (more than about an inch in diameter) are likely to be tough and woody. Leaf tops should be fresh and green, the root end should be unblemished and yield very slightly to pressure. Buy more than needed (around double by weight) to allow for losses due to trimming.
Stored loosely wrapped in plastic (to keep them from drying out and to contain their smell) they will keep in the fridge for a week.
Remove any tired or damaged outer leaves. Trim the rootlets at the base and cut off around a half to two thirds of the dark green tops. Partially cut the leeks in half lengthwise, starting at the middle and running the knife up to the green tops. Make a second lengthwise cut perpendicular to the first, allowing you to fan out the leaves. Give them a good rinse to remove the dirt that can get trapped inside as the leek grows. If you’re not cooking the leeks whole then give them another wash after chopping them.
Undercooked leeks are tough and chewy and overcooked leeks can take on an undesirable squidgy texture. Cook until just tender, testing by piercing the base with a knife. Braising in a moderate oven will take anything from 10 to 30 minutes depending on size. They can also be boiled or steamed.
Legend has it that the Welsh adopted the vegetable as a national emblem in the seventh century when a Welsh army triumphed against the Saxons after wearing leeks in their hats to distinguish them from their enemy.