Leeks – winter standbys

LeeksI have a love-hate relationship with leeks. Firstly I find them a bit tricky to grow. I usually sow them in pots but the germination rate, even for fresh seed, is never that great. Then they grow slowly and although you’re supposed to wait until they’re as thick as a pencil in my hands they languish at the weedy stage so I usually give them up and plant them out when they’re still tiny. Miraculously, however, they generally all grow and eventually turn into decent sized leeks that, apart from a few which run to seed or rot, last through the winter. And that’s just as well since at this time of the year leeks are the only green vegetable I can find to eat in the garden since the sprouts are finished and the chickens will be getting the kale.

So that brings me to the second part of my love-hate relationship with leeks. I don’t find them that easy to cook. Yes, you can boil them, but I really don’t like that boiled onion taste, so I generally fry them. But I always end up burning them since, contrary to all those recipes that tell you to stir fry leeks for 5 minutes, I find they take at least 20 minutes to cook.  Otherwise they end up squeaky. What I’ve started to do is to fry them briefly in butter then add a little water and put a lid on, cook until soft, take the lid off and boil off the water so they end up frying in the butter.

Nevertheless, in spite of the growing/cooking problems, they’re jolly useful vegetables which can be used in lots of different ways. So here are some of my staple leek recipes:

leek pizza
Leek and blue cheese pizza

Leek and blue cheese pizza – this is dead easy and makes a nice change from tomato-based pizza.  Make a pizza base in whatever way takes your fancy.  My recipe is: 175g strong flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp instant yeast, 0.5 tsp sugar, 1 tbsp oil, 100 ml water.  Method – mix 60 g of the flour with the water, sugar and yeast to make a sponge and leave in a warm place until it bubbles (30 mins or so) then add the rest of the flour, salt and oil, knead until smooth (3 mins) and roll out thinly to about a foot in diameter ). Allow to rise for about 30 mins.  Prebake the base for 10 mins at 200ºC (preferably on a silicone sheet straight onto a preheated quarry tile). Meanwhile, fry 3-4 leeks gently in butter until cooked (the challenging bit of the recipe). Spread over the part-cooked pizza base and top with crumbled blue cheese – choose a strong one, but check it’s not too salty – and bake for 5 minutes.  A pizza this size serves 2 greedy people, or more with some salad on the side.  Variations – add mozzarella as well as the blue cheese.

leek and bacon pasta
Leek and bacon pasta

Leek and bacon pasta – a real staple. Essentially this is macaroni cheese with cooked leeks and fried bacon added, then baked with a topping of mixed breadcrumbs and cheese. This amount serves 2:

175 g pasta, 2 medium leeks, 4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, 60 g cheese, 25g butter, 20 g flour, roughly 250 ml milk, and 2 tbsp of fresh (or frozen) breadcrumbs.  Cook the pasta in boiling water for 10 minutes only.  Cook the sliced leeks in a little butter and/or oil until cooked (15-20 mins). Fry the chopped bacon until cooked.  Mix leeks and bacon with pasta in a dish. Make a sauce with the butter, flour and milk, add most of the grated cheese and season. Mix what’s left of the cheese (2 tbsp) with the breadcrumbs and scatter over.  Bake at 180ºC for 20 minutes or until brown. (It will take longer if the dish is cold).

Cheesy leek and bacon pasta – I haven’t tried this particular recipe this but it’s similar to something I used to make so I’ll be giving it a go.  It’s uses a herbed soft cheese to make a quick creamy sauce.  Not one for a diet day!

Leek and feta frittata – another staple.  Fry one or two leeks in butter.  Add a couple of cooked sliced potatoes.  Pour over 4 seasoned beaten eggs, cover with a lid and cook over a moderate heat until the egg is almost setting.  Add small cubes of feta, carry on cooking until the egg has set, then finish off under the grill to brown the cheese.  This serves 3 if served with some salad.

Low carbon food planning for 2016

I’ve already bought my seeds for this year but if I’ve forgotten anything there’s still time to buy seeds in February since most don’t need to be sown before March. Here’s what I’ll be growing in 2016. Most of these are things I grow every year, but I always like to try something new or a new variety of something

Root veg – carrots, parsnips (new seed every year), beetroot, swede.

Salad veg – mixed salad leaves, mixed lettuce, radish, rocket. I buy spring onion plants later in the year which is cheating but it’s the only way I can grow them.

Peas and beans – broad beans (dwarf variety), runner beans, dwarf French beans, peas (petit pois).  I’ve given up on French climbing beans and mange tout.

Brassicas – kale, spring cabbage, sprouts, green broccoli, purple-sprouting broccoli, cauliflower (a mix of colours this year, white, orange, purple and green).

Other veg – courgettes, spinach, rainbow chard, leeks, outdoor dwarf tomatoes, outdoor mini cucumbers (which I grow in a cold frame).

Annual herbs – coriander (calypso variety), dill, chervil.

Other things  I’ll be growing include potatoes, garlic (planted in October), and artichokes (saved tubers from this winter’s crop).  I’ve given up on onions and shallots because of the white rot in my soil.

New things for 2016 – patio aubergines and radicchio.  Most of the new things I try don’t work (last year was butternut squash and sweetcorn – both disasters) but I never give up hope – and that’s definitely a requirement of being a gardener!


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