IN March and April, the leeks which were planted in the hard cold winter soil are harvested.
The tougher growing conditions result in leeks which are heartier and more flavourful than the more delicate summer leeks.
The spring leeks are thus the perfect substitute for onions, so use this opportunity to give yourself a break from the peeling and crying.
The leek is of course a gentler, greener experience compared to an onion but in spring they are robust enough to be a good replacement, being just as versatile and useful in the kitchen. Try and go for small and medium sized leeks as the large ones can be a little woody.
When preparing leeks, remove any tired or damaged leaves and slice lengthways the whole way up, opening it and running the leek under the tap to thoroughly clean out any dirt than might be in there.
4 medium leeks, cut into ½ inch rounds, green parts removed
2 fennel bulbs, sliced thinly
2 tsp of thyme leaves
150g soft goats cheese like St Tola or Ardsallagh
60ml of white wine
60ml double cream
salt and pepper
2 tbsp of chopped parsley
1 tbsp of butter
80g cream flour
90g rye flour
1 tsp of caster sugar
½ tsp of salt
1 large egg
120g chilled butter
2 tsp of lemon juice
½ tsp of lemon zest
40ml double cream, more if needed
Make the dough by combining the two flours, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk the egg with the cream in a large jug. Cut the butter into small chunks and rub into the flour mix until you have breadcrumbs. Drizzle the egg and cream mixture into the crumbs slowly mixing it with your hands as you go. You may not need all of the egg and cream, you are looking for a not too sticky dough that comes together nicely without sticking to everything. Add a little lemon juice and zest, sprinkling more flour on if it becomes too wet.
Press this dough into a disk, cover with cling-film and refrigerate for at leas two hours.
Preheat the oven to 200C.
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the butter with a little olive oil and add the leeks, thyme and fennel. Season and cook on a medium heat for around 10 minutes until everything is nice a soft. Add the white wine and continue cooking until it has reduced before adding the cream and parsley. Cook until the sauce is nicely coating the leeks and fennel and isn’t too runny. Take off the heat and leave cool.
Roll the pastry out on a large baking tray lined with parchment. The dough should be around 1/4inch thick. Cut off any excess dough, it should be roughly a large 30cm round. Spread the leek and fennel mixture in the middle of the dough, spreading it out but leaving a good two-inch gap along the edges. Spoon dollops of goats cheese all over the top, season with salt and pepper and some more thyme leaves.
Fold the dough in on itself until you have a rustic, rough and ready pie. Use the remaining egg and cream to brush the dough and place in the oven for around 40 minutes until golden and bubbling.
Cream, leeks, wine, butter, thyme and cheese — such a perfectly comforting combination. This pasta dish is all the more comforting because it is so quick and easy to pull together.
3 leeks, white parts thinly sliced
1 clove of garlic, finely diced
125ml of dry white wine
200ml of cream
50ml of butter
Zest of ½ lemon
1 tbsp of thyme leaves
250g of dried pappardelle cooked in salted water until al dente
100g of parmesan or gruyere
Salt and pepper
Heat the butter with a little oil in a large frying pan on a medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for a minute until fragrant before adding the leeks.
Cook on a medium heat for around six to eight minutes being careful not to brown the leeks.
Add the wine and leave to simmer until it mostly evaporates forming a sauce with the butter and leeks.
Add the cream and thyme leaves stirring to combine, cook for a further five minutes until the sauce has thickened.
Add the lemon zest, taste for seasoning and then add the drained pasta, tossing it to coat the pappardelle in the sauce.
Top with shaved or grated cheese and serve.
A bowl of this is more of a healing broth than a soup. Its magic lies in the simplicity of using just a few very good, very ordinary ingredients which come together with good stock to make you feel brighter. The leek in particular has a certain clarity in this broth, not being laden down with cream or cheese or bacon. It is allowed to just be a leek, being delicately green, herbaceous and sweet. I tend to use as good a vegetable stock as I can find or make but you can also use a good chicken stock. Add a tablespoon of light miso paste to give your soup an added earthy complexity.
1litre of good vegetable or chicken stock, heated
3 medium sized leeks, white only, sliced into medium thick rounds
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
4 spring onions, thinly sliced
A handful of washed and roughly shredded spinach or chard leaves
1 tbsp of olive oil or 30g butter
Zest of half a lemon
Sea salt and black pepper
1 tbsp of light miso paste (optional)
In a heavy based saucepan or casserole, heat the olive oil or butter in a medium high heat and add the leeks and spring onions. Season lightly and cook until they soften but be careful not to let them brown too much.
Add the carrot and celery to the pan, cooking for a further two or three minutes.
Add the hot stock next and leave to simmer for roughly 20 minutes until the carrots and celery have softened.
If you are using miso paste, stir it in at this stage. Add the shredded leaves last along with the parsley and lemon zest, simmering for two minutes.
Check seasoning and serve hot with crusty white bread.