The lamenting continues about how this season was one of the worst growing seasons in Northeast coast memory. Yes, the incessant flooding rains, then hurricane Irene in September and last weekend, we had 10-12" of snow before Halloween. What's next? Doesn't quite matter since the damage is done. We've typically harvested until the end of November. Thanks to our buddies at Nazunya Designs we were able to have our high tunnel up and operational 16 hours before the storm hit. The high tunnel protects our 4 main beds that will enable us to grow our lettuces, mustard greens and kale though the fall and early winter. However, looking outside of that tunnel, not a lot has survived...except: our gorgeous leeks, parsley, cilantro, fennel and some bok choy that happened to be under a fabric cover and rebounded once the snow melted. Other things that are salvagable are some root veggies. Though the green tops of our turnips, beets and celeriac have been hit, the roots are stable enough to harvest. My saddest loss was the rainbow swiss chard. A true trooper of a vegetable that has fed us and our neighbors from late spring to just before the snow storm. Thankfully, I blanched and froze 15 lbs of it this summer.
A few years ago we left some leeks outside to overwinter without mulching or protection and surprisingly once the ground thawed, we were able to enjoy them well into mid spring. Anytime storage can happen without jars and outside of the freezer is a nice plus. Less work. Once a staple vegetable in Europe, leeks are enjoying a "comeback" in the culinary world. They can be used in place of onions although they are more pungent. As part of the allium family (garlic, onions, chives, scallions), leeks have not been as rigorously studied as garlic in the medical studies. However, because of the similarity of compounds, one can extrapolate the health benefits found in its relatives nutritional profile. Leeks are high in manganese, folic acid, vitamins C and B6. This year in a meta-analysis published in the journal Gastroenterolgy, it was found that large consumption of allium vegetables reduced the risk for gastric cancer. To reduce the risk, one would need to consume 20 grams per day or the equivalent of a head of garlic. That's really not much at all. That study looked at prevention of disease but there are many non-clinical studies that support the organosulfur constituents in garlic have activity against certain cancerous cells. That means treatment not just prevention.
When I was a cooking novice, I used to follow recipe instructions like a chemistry textbook. I would literally use just the white parts of the leeks and discard the rest. Now I know better!
1. Use leeks from the white to the pale green portion. The dark green tops can be used to flavor stocks but tend to be more cabbage-like rather than onion-like in flavor.
2. Buy leeks with some of their tops on, if you can. The tops will indicate how fresh your leeks are.
3. Don't stress about washing leeks. The way they are grown cause grit and dirt to accumulate between some of the leaf layers. Instead of some suggestions that tell you to soak the vegetable in water to loose the dirt, I just chop up what I need, place it in a colander and rinse.
RECIPE: Creamy Leek Soup
This soup is best made 1-3 days ahead so that the flavors can develop. It can be also frozen (just don't add the cream) and reheated on a lazy winter's night. Serve with some crusty bread and a head of roasted garlic to increase your allium intake!
- Leeks 3 pounds, trimmed and chopped, using white and pale green parts only
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 large carrot, chopped
- 1 small celeriac root plus tops OR 2 celery ribs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
- 1 small boiling potato (6 ounces)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 3 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
- 3 cups water
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 1/2 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour**
- 1/2 cup creme fraiche
To make gluten free, omit the instructions for roux (butter and flour) and add an additional large potato instead.
Wash sliced leeks in a large bowl of cold water, agitating them, then lift out and drain well in a colander.
Cook leeks, onion, carrot, celery, salt, and pepper in 4 tablespoons butter in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Peel potato and cut into 1/2-inch cubes, then add to onion mixture along with wine, stock, water, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
Stir in parsley and simmer soup, uncovered, 5 minutes. Discard bay leaf and keep soup at a bare simmer.
Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter in a 1-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, then add flour and cook roux, whisking, until golden, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add 2 cups simmering stock (from soup), whisking vigorously (mixture will be thick), then whisk mixture into remaining soup and return to a simmer, whisking.
If you have time, let the soup cool then blend it depending on the consistency you like. I find a immersion hand blender works beautifully without all the mess. Reheat soup, then season with salt and pepper.
Serve soup topped with a large dollop of cream fraiche.
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine May 2007