It’s during those weeks when winter is nearly over and we play peek-a-boo with spring that leeks shine at the market in all their glory. Yes, they are available year-round, but to me, leeks are the gateway into springtime foods, the transition between hearty winter stews and delicate warmer-weather fare.
Together with garlic, shallots, scallions, and chives, leeks are part of the allium family. They have an onion-like texture, with similarly tightly packed layers, but are milder and sweeter in flavor. They grow long and stringy, varying in thickness, with dark green leaves that are tough and often inedible, and white and pale green bottoms that turn silky and sweet when cooked.
Leeks are often delegated to broths and soups, where they hide in the background, adding depth of flavor. But this grand vegetable well deserves to be brought into the spotlight, and these recipes do just that. Use only the white and pale green parts, but don’t toss the tough tops: Keep them for … well, making stocks and broths.
At the market, look for leeks that have the biggest proportion of pale green and white bottoms to dark green tops, and have some roots attached, as they will last a little longer.
Leeks need a good wash before they are used, as they grow in loose soil and tend to trap dirt within their layers. I slice them and rinse them in a colander, or halve them and leave them in a water bath for about 20 minutes, swishing them around to remove the dirt.
When thinking about my favorite leek recipes, the first that come to mind are the rustic leek and potato soup and its chic sister vichyssoise, one of the recipes I am sharing today. Another favorite, leeks braised with butter and wine, is one of the best ways to fully enjoy this vegetable in its entirety. Finally, there’s an easy frittata with leeks, potatoes, and spinach that, due to its adaptability, you can use as the starting point of many culinary adventures.
Victoria de la Maza is an award-winning cookbook author, columnist, and international TV host. Passionate about great food, she combines American traditions with her European heritage to create classic-with-a-twist recipes and ideas for stylish entertaining at home.