Leeks

 Leeks Key facts Leeks belong to the same family as onions and garlic. A key ingredient of cock a leekie soup and vichyssoise, the leek is also one of the national symbols of Wales.

Season: Best home grown from September to May Leeks are a very fine vegetable indeed. Though they are related to onions, they have a far more subtle – and somehow nobler – taste, I think. Leeks lend themselves to other flavours superbly, too: great with potatoes, in a soup or with cheese, in salads with vinaigrette, and they also respond beautifully to quick stir-frying.

Watch the season, though, as home-grown leeks get a bit woolly and tired in the late spring and summer and the imported ones never seem quite as good. Remember, too, that the smaller and thinner the leeks are the sweeter their flavour is, so avoid the very fat, heavy ones.

To prepare leeks: Buy a little more than you need because there's going to be quite a bit of trimming. First, take off the tough outer leaves and trim off most of the very green part. Now, using a sharp knife, place the leek on a flat surface and make an incision vertically about halfway down (because of the intricate layers, there can be dust and grit trapped in between, usually in the upper part). Now turn on the cold tap and fan out the layers of leek to rinse them through and rid them of any hidden dirt.

Buttered Leeks: This is my favourite way of cooking leeks – very gently, in their own juices and served as a vegetable, particularly at the end of winter when there's not an awful lot else available. Serves 2½ level teaspoon butter1 lb (450 g) leeks, trimmed – you need 12 oz (350 g) trimmed weight salt and freshly milled black pepper. When the leeks are trimmed and washed, cut them all the way through vertically, then chop them into 1 inch (2.5 cm) pieces. Now place a small frying pan over a medium heat, add the butter and let it melt – it needs to lightly coat the surface of the pan.

Now add the leeks and some seasoning, stir them around, then turn the heat down to low and let them cook gently for about 5 minutes without a lid, stirring them 2 or 3 times. There will be quite a lot of juice that collects in the pan, so use a draining spoon to serve.

 
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