The change in season always brings about mixed feelings
– usually, at the end of summer, a little sadness that those balmy days are over, but also a little excitement for the months ahead… New colours cropping up in the garden and a few things maturing in the veg patch to brighten up the dwindling tawny light and slower pace we find in the Autumn months. For me there is the joy of going back to more relaxed, unhurried cooking techniques; slow sticky roasts, root vegetable heavy soups and softly bubbling stews – and the richer, deeper flavours you get from this type of cooking.
Here I have favoured leeks – one of my favourite alliums – and a braising technique that really brings out their hidden character and charm… No other vegetable makes such a transformation in my book – a bag of raw leeks could well be mistaken for an unwanted blast from a sweaty locker room door, but gently cooked, these pale batons become so softly sweet and luxuriously silky in texture that it’s hard to believe they are the same vegetable!
A wonderful light lunch with some crusty bread, pesto and toasted nuts and a fabulous side for roast meats and fish too – not to mention the basis for the classic Leeks Mimosa (just add finely chopped hard boiled egg!). All in all a celebration of a rather overlooked and unloved vegetable that’s definitely worth a try.
Leeks, white parts only, cut into finger length batons (allow 3-4 batons per person and save the green parts for making stock)
Chicken or vegetable stock (enough to half cover the leeks in the pan)
Sherry vinegar (good quality, barrel aged if possible)
Butter (grass fed if possible)
Extra virgin olive oil
A few soft herbs (tarragon, chervil, parsley and chives are all nice)
Garlic cloves (allow one small clove for every 2 leeks)
Salt and pepper
Arrange your leeks, in a single layer if possible, in a wide, heavy based pan with a lid.
Dot in a knob of butter and glug in a little olive oil and place over a gentle heat.
Allow the butter to melt and coat the leeks – but only to warm things up – you don’t want the leeks to take on any colour and they should remain beautifully pale throughout.
Splash in the sherry vinegar and allow that to bubble, then add enough stock to come up half way over the leeks, season with salt and pepper, add the bay leaf and clamp on the lid.
Over a low-medium heat allow the leeks to gently braise, checking every now and again and topping up with stock if its start to look dry.
After about 15 mins the leeks should be completely soft to the point of a knife and the stock, butter and oil should have become thick and syrupy and be clinging to the leeks.
If dry then splash in a little more stock and if too wet then remove the leeks to a plate and reduce the stock to a syrup that you can then pour over the plated leeks.
Scatter over the chopped soft herbs and serve.
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