Looking a bit like an overgrown green onion, leeks have a sweet flavor all their own, similar to onions but much milder.
In many parts of the world they are still considered a delicacy, but we have begun to use them as a common ingredient in soups and side dishes, and especially in the classic recipe, chilled leek and potato soup.
Leeks are delicious raw or cooked. You can add chopped, uncooked leeks to salads, dips, and salsas. Cooking leeks though will intensify their natural sweetness.
Leeks are more and more available to us year-round, though they are known to be an early spring crop. When buying, look for slender, straight, dry leeks. The bulb should be a bright white, middle section a light green and very tops a darker green. The edible section is the light green and white. The best storage tip is to wrap them in damp paper towels in a plastic bag in your crisper drawer for no more than five or days days. Wash, trim and separate the leaves just before using.
My favorite way to eat them is to separate the leeks, cutting into 2- to 3-inch lengths. Toss them in a small amount of olive oil with salt, pepper, and minced garlic. Roast on a baking sheet, in a 425 degree oven about 20 minutes. Stir a few times while cooking.
As a menu suggestion, this is a perfect accompaniment to a piece of roast salmon.
In this recipe leeks are paired with another spring vegetable, incomparable asparagus.
Warm Leek, Asparagus and Potato Salad
Serves 5 to 6
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4-pound fingerling potatoes (or small red-skin potatoes)
1 pound asparagus, cut into 2-inch lengths
2 medium leeks, white and tender green parts, split lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup snipped chives
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large bowl, whisk the mustard with the vinegar. Whisk in the oil in a thin stream and season with salt and pepper.
Boil 2 saucepans of salted water. Add the potatoes to one, cook for 20 minutes. Cook asparagus and leeks in the other pan for 5 minutes; drain, pat dry and add to the dressing. Drain the potatoes, slice half -inch thick and add to the bowl. Add the chives, season with salt and pepper and gently toss.
Grow fresh herbs in a mini herb garden.
If you cook, you will love having fresh herbs always ready to put into your recipe. When nights are warmer than 40 degrees, plant rosemary, thyme, and oregano in a pot that is at least 18 inches wide. Use a well-draining potting soil, and place the pot outdoors in full sun.
Using a waterproof marker, write on a popsicle stick name of each herb to mark where planted.
If you would like to grow mint, it should be in its own pot as it spreads.
Here is a basic vinaigrette to make when using your fresh cut herbs.
Fresh Herb Vinaigrette
Using an oil and vinegar cruet or jar, fill one-third full of olive oil.
Add an equal amount of your favorite vinegar. Take two, 2-inch sprigs of desired herb, such as oregano or thyme, and pinch leaves off of stems into the cruet. Some herbs are stronger than others so I would suggest a taste test in case you need to add more.
Add salt and pepper to your liking.
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Patricia Altomare invites feedback. Email her at email@example.com, or write care of Gloucester Daily Times, 36 Whittemore St., Gloucester, MA 01930.