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Leeks as solo artists in spring

March 9, 2011

With all the fuss about shamrocks and leprechauns, we could easily forget that St. Patrick was a Welsh boy, who first set foot in Ireland because he was kidnapped by Irish pirates. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I’m thinking about leeks, the Welsh national vegetable. There’s as much magic in them as in any leprechaun, especially if you know when to seek them out. Spring leeks are a revelation in their tenderness and delicate flavor.

For anyone used to the thicker, tougher specimens of fall and winter, leeks may seem as ordinary as their close relative, the onion. But I have a soft spot for spring leeks and the way they shine in simple dishes. Maybe it’s because of the time I’ve spent in France, where simmered leeks vinaigrette are served as a cold starter in the spring, when they’re newly in season. I was taught to hunt for the best leeks at springtime markets, the ones that are tender and slim, with a nice length of white stem. They need very little trimming before they’re simmered whole in a shallow pan of water, sometimes with a touch of white wine. It takes a little patience, but the texture is magically silky, the flavor is subtle and mellow, and the vinaigrette adds the perfect zing of acidity.

Leeks make another stunning solo performance in leek tart, called flamiche in Northern France, where it’s a specialty. (The word flamiche actually comes from the Flemish word for “cake.”)

The stars of flamiche are leeks, butter and cream. The leeks are cooked until they practically melt, and then baked in an egg-and-cream custard, much like a quiche. To round out the cast of flavors, you can add gruyere or Swiss cheese to the filling, or saute the leeks with bacon or pancetta. For a fresh supper, serve leek tart with a salad of mixed spring greens.

The Welsh, Irish and French have staked their claims to leeks, but you can claim them, too. Let them inspire you this spring.

*     *     *     *

Flamiche (Leek Tart)

(adapted from The Art of the Tart, by Tamasin Day-Lewis)

1 cup flour (may substitute ½ cup with whole wheat flour, or ¼ cup whole wheat, ¼ cup cornmeal)

4 tablespoons butter

2 ½ tablespoons ice water

3 lbs leeks (about 4-5), washed, trimmed, and sliced into 1/2” rounds

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon water

2/3 cup half-and-half

¼ cup grated Swiss cheese

1 egg and 2 egg yolks

salt and pepper to taste

pinch of nutmeg

For the crust, pulse flour and water in a food processor until they resemble coarse crumbs. Add enough ice water so dough begins to form a ball. Remove from food processor, flatten into a disk, and chill at least 30 minutes. Roll out to fit an 8” or 9” pie plate. Preheat oven to 350F.

Saute the leeks in the butter and water on low heat, covered, until very tender (about 30 minutes). Cool before piling into prepared crust. Mix the half-and-half, cheese, eggs and seasoning. Pour mixture over leeks in pie shell. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until custard has set.

One Comment leave one →
  1. marilyn bourbon permalink
    March 9, 2011 3:53 pm

    looks delicious! yum

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