Seasonal pantry: Leeks are at their peak, just in time for winter dishes
On Thanksgiving Eve, I was given a lovely gift of two small heritage breed turkeys and a beautiful box of Laguna Farms produce. In that box were three beautiful leeks, and they have been a source of inspiration since that night.
I sliced and fried one of the leeks with some bacon, added chopped Russian kale, cooked it all until the kale was quite tender, then used it as a bed for pork piccata. A few days later, I had a hunger for spaghetti with a simple meat and tomato sauce. I had no onions, so I used a leek instead. It turned out perfectly, with a subtle perfume of leeks that was not overwhelming.
Leeks are at their peak right now. Typically, they begin to appear in mid to late fall and the crop continues until early spring. In California, we typically have leeks year-round because we have so many microclimates.
Leeks are alliums and are, of course, related to garlic, shallots, scallions, onions and ramps. They are little powerhouses of flavor and are capable of enhancing myriad savory dishes while keeping a low profile at the same time. You won’t always notice the shallot in a sauce or the onion in a stew, but you will definitely notice if it’s not there.
If you grow your own leeks and don’t harvest them all, they will produce large beautiful flowers. These flowers are best left in the garden, and I strongly suggest you not do what I did a number of years ago. I picked a big armful, put them in a large vase behind my bed and went on with my day. When I walked into my bedroom to go to sleep, I almost immediately began to stream tears: The leek flowers are much stronger than the leeks themselves. I had to remove them and air out my room before I could sleep. I still blush a bit and laugh whenever I recall it. You’d think I’d know better, wouldn’t you?
Over the years, I’ve written about leeks a number of times, usually in February but occasionally in December. With Dungeness crab season beginning this week, you may want to check out my recipe for crab and leek vichyssoise, which is just lovely for a holiday celebration. You can find that recipe and other recipes that call for leeks at “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
We tend to think of potato salads as a summer thing, for picnics and barbecues, with hot dogs, hamburgers and watermelon alongside. But I find them delicious year-round, especially when the potatoes are combined with seasonally appropriate ingredients, as they are here.
Warm Potato Leek Salad
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1½ pounds small red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into ¼-inch thick slices
— Kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
6-8 very thin leeks, trimmed, thoroughly washed and cut into ¼-inch thick crosswise slices
— Zest of 2 small lemons
— Juice of 2 small lemons
— Black pepper in a mill
2 tablespoons minced red onion
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dry white wine
3 tablespoons best quality extra virgin olive oil, plus more to taste
4-5 radishes, trimmed and very thinly sliced
¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley