By Michael Welch
When I was in cooking school, any recipe with leeks gave me a small sense of dread. I hated chopping off the upper half of green stalks and tossing them in the compost. It seemed so wasteful for something that was paid for by the pound. Additionally, they required extra steps (a freshly sharpened knife to make sure the slices didn’t stick together in ribbons and repeated washings in the sink). It seemed like too much time and effort for what was basically an onion.
But when I found a recipe in Alfred Portale’s 12 Seasons cookbook that took whole leeks (the white parts) poached them in a savory chicken broth, chilled them and dressed them with a mustardy vinaigrette, I looked at these alliums in a whole new light. Despite their demands, I loved the sweet, peppery taste of leeks and what they could bring to a dish. This poaching recipe was a gem and it helped me appreciate leeks at a new level. Now I get excited every time my local CSA has them in the bins for us to take home.
And this time of year in the Finger Lakes is perfect for sourcing leeks for your fall dishes. When choosing them at the farmer’s market or at the CSA, keep these tips in mind.
- Look for leeks that have maximum white stretches so that you get more to eat.
- Select leeks that are about the same length and thickness so they are about the same size when you chop or poach them.
- For the dark green leaves that you cut off, store them in a freezer bag and add them to homemade stock. The leaves have a great onion flavor and you are maximizing the whole plant.
- If you have a good food processor, make Leek Green Pesto by braising the greens til tender, chilling them and then pureeing them with garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and parmesan for a variation on traditional pesto. It’s delicious and dresses up a grilled pork chop wonderfully.
And try these recipes with your leeks this season. They’re worth the extra effort.