We think of delicately beautiful leeks as harbingers of spring and we want them now, even though their season is winding down, not beginning.|

We think of delicately beautiful leeks as harbingers of spring and we want them now, even though their season is winding down, not beginning.

Their flavor, too, evokes the approach of spring, and they are often at their best served with spring foods, like artichokes, asparagus, spring garlic, spring onions and eggs.

Yet leeks are a fall and winter crop and are finishing as spring unfolds. Locally, we do tend to have some leeks nearly year round, as there are enough microclimates to provide what they need, which is sandy soil and not too much heat.

Left in the ground in hot weather, leeks produce a gorgeous flower, a large spiky puffball of sorts with tiny purple flowers at the end of each spike. One year when I had a lot of leeks in my garden, I let some bloom and then gathered them into a huge bouquet that I put in a large urn at the head of my bed.

It was a big mistake. Although leeks don't typically evoke the same amount of tears as onions and shallots do, their flowers are strongly scented and will make you cry, especially in an enclosed space.

When shopping for leeks, you'll find the best at farmers markets, of course. To enjoy them whole, look for leeks that are about as big around as your thumb. If you'll be slicing them for soup, quiche, strudel, risotto and such, larger leeks are fine.

Once you have leeks, it is important to clean them well, as dirt and sand often hide between the layers of leaves. I think it is best to rinse them in warm water and, if the leek is particularly large, cut it in half lengthwise before doing so.

For leek recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit "Eat This Now" at

If you think of risotto as a special-occasion dish, I encourage you to rethink. When there's stock in your pantry or freezer and good Italian rice on the shelf, it makes a great week-night meal when not much else is at hand and you really don't want to go to the market. In this recipe, you can omit the asparagus and egg if you like and serve the risotto solo, with a little salad alongside. I recommend Earthworker Farm's salad mix with onion grass, as the flavor resonates beautifully with the flavor of the leeks.

Leek Risotto with Roasted Asparagus and Sieved Egg

Makes 3 to 4 servings

2 pastured eggs

1 pound fat asparagus, tough ends broken off and discarded

3 tablespoons olive oil

-- Kosher salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 cups thinly sliced leeks (from about 3 medium leeks, white and pale green parts only)

-- Black pepper in a mill

1 1/2 cups Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice

2 cups homemade chicken or vegetable stock, hot

4 cups hot water, plus more as needed

4 ounces (1 cup) Bellwether Carmody or similar cheese

3 tablespoons fresh snipped chives

Put the eggs into a small saucepan, fill halfway with water and set over medium heat. When the water boils, turn off the flame and cover the pan.

Set the asparagus on a sheet pan, add a tiny bit of the olive oil and turn to lubricate the asparagus in the oil. Season with salt and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Heat the remaining olive oil and the butter together in a wide deep pan such as an All-Clad saucier set over medium heat until the butter is completely melted. Add the leeks and saute until they are wilted, about 10 minutes. Season with a generous pinch or two of salt and several turns of black pepper, add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until each grain begins to turn milky white, about three minutes.

Combine the stock and hot water and keep warm over low heat.

Put the asparagus into the preheated oven and set the timer for 12 minutes.

Add the stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition until the liquid is nearly absorbed. Continue to add stock and stir until the rice is tender but not mushy, about 18 to 20 minutes. Stir in the cheese, taste, correct the seasoning and stir in the last of the liquid.

Remove the asparagus from the oven when it is tender and keep warm. Remove the eggs from the water and peel. Using the small blade of a box grater, grate the eggs into a small bowl.

Working quickly, divide risotto among 3 or 4 soup plates. Arrange the asparagus on top, like the spokes of a wheel, and scatter grated egg over each portion. Grind black pepper on top, add a little salt and scatter with chives. Serve immediately.

Braising leeks is a wonderful way to enjoy them. They are delicious neat, with nothing but a bit of salt and, maybe, pepper. But they are delicious in a vinaigrette, with eggs, with an Italian-style salsa verde or finished in the oven with cream and a good cheese for a simple gratin.

Braised Leeks with Warm Green Peppercorn Vinaigrette & Poached Farm Eggs

Makes 4 servings

16 to 20 medium-small leeks (about as big around as your thumb), thoroughly cleaned

-- Kosher salt

1 or 2 garlic cloves

1 tablespoon brined green peppercorns, drained

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 shallot, minced

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon Champagne or white wine vinegar

-- Kosher salt

-- Black pepper in a mill

4 large pastured eggs

2 tablespoons snipped chives or chopped fresh Italian parsley

First, trim the leeks, cutting off the roots and leaving no more than a third of the dark green stems. Put the leeks in a wide shallow pan, cover with water, add a tablespoon of salt and bring to a boil over high heat. The moment the water boils, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer gently until the leeks are very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes or a bit longer.

Meanwhile, put the garlic into a suribachi and use a wooden pestle to crush it to a paste. Add 1 teaspoon of the peppercorns, crush thoroughly and combine with the garlic. Stir in the mustard and set the mixture aside.

Pour a little olive oil into a small saute pan, set over medium-low heat, add the shallot and saute until soft and fragrant, about 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the garlic paste, cook for 30 seconds, stir in the 3 tablespoons of vinegar and add the remaining 2 teaspoons of green peppercorns. Season with salt and several turns of black pepper. Add the olive oil and remove from the heat. Set aside.

Fill a deep saute pan or wide saucepan with about 3 inches of water. Add a teaspoon of vinegar and bring to a boil over high heat. Break the eggs into small individual bowls.

When the leeks are tender, remove and drain thoroughly in a colander, cover and keep warm.

Working quickly, carefully tip each egg into the pan. When the water just begins to return to a boil, reduce the heat so that it simmers gently and set the timer for 2 minutes for fully runny yolks or 3 minutes if you prefer them a bit more cooked.

Warm the vinaigrette.

Divide the leeks among individual plates.

When the eggs are ready, use a slotted spoon to carefully lift them, one at a time, from the pot. Shake off excess water and set on top of the leeks.

Spoon vinaigrette over each portion, scatter chives or parsley on top and serve immediately.

Michele Anna Jordan hosts "Mouthful" each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. E-mail Jordan at You'll find her blog, "Eat This Now," at pantry.blogs

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