PENINSULA KITCHEN: You are what you eat

THIS HAS BEEN quite the winter for prolonged cold.

As I write this, everything outside my house is frozen solid and there has been snow on the ground for weeks.

The bright celebrations of the winter holidays are nearly behind us, and yet we have many months of cold days and long nights ahead.

You can’t change the course of the sun, but at least you can nourish your mind and body with the most wholesome and complete food you can find.

Our beloved farmers tend their crops and show up reliably at the market week in and week out.

In addition to Brussels sprouts and stored root vegetables, they are still harvesting leeks.

Leeks are one of the most overlooked and humble vegetables.

Even as snow and ice cover the frozen ground, these stalwart, slow-growing miracles offer both flavor and sustenance.

There is a saying that most of us learned in elementary school: You are what you eat.

If you want to be strong, adaptable to harsh conditions and authentic, try this slow-growing and vitamin-packed vegetable.

Here is a delicious and hearty recipe that relies on a trio of locally sourced foods, sure to please.

This dish can be served straight out of the oven or made ahead and served chilled.

This quantity should be enough to save leftovers for an easy vegetable throughout the week.

Braised leeks with bacon and thyme, adapted from “All About Braising” by Molly Stevens

Serves six to 12 depending on your appetite for veggies

Braising time: about an hour

4 slices thick bacon (¹⁄³ pound)

1 teaspoons unsalted butter

4 to 5 pounds medium to large leeks (6 to 8 leeks)

2 garlic cloves peeled and cut lengthwise

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Freshly grated nutmeg (or powdered)

1½ tablespoons chopped fresh thyme (or dried)

1 cup chicken stock

1 small apple cored and sliced with the skin on

juice of ½ lemon

To fry the bacon, place it in a skillet over medium heat and fry, stirring occasionally until mostly crisp but with some softness remaining which takes about 8 to 10 minutes.

Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels to drain and set the skillet aside.

To braise the liquid, return the bacon skillet to the heat, add the stock and bring to a boil, scraping with a wooden spoon.

Set aside until ready to use.

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 13-inch-by-9-inch baking dish (or you can do this all in one Dutch oven if you have one large enough).

To prepare the leeks, use a large knife to trim off the root and the leathery green tops, leaving approximately 6 inches of mostly white and pale green portions.

Remove the outer layer if needed.

Cut the leeks in half lengthwise, but not all the way through.

Flare the leek and rinse upside down to remove all sand and dirt. Drain the water.

Lay the leeks side by side in a single layer in the baking dish.

Tuck the garlic cloves and apple slices in between the leeks, season with salt, pepper, nutmeg and thyme.

Save the dark green leek portions and use later for making a vitamin packed soup stock.

To make the braise, cover the baking dish tightly with foil or a lid and place on a rack in the lower third of the oven.

After 30 minutes, turn each leek with tongs and continue braising for another 15 to 25 minutes until the leeks are fork tender.

Chop the bacon into bite-size pieces and cover the leeks. Continue braising for another 15 minutes if necessary to soften the leeks.

To finish, use tongs to transfer the leeks and bacon to a serving platter and cover to keep warm.

If there is more than a ½ cup of liquid remaining in the braising dish, transfer it to a skillet and reduce the liquid to ¼ cup.

Taste for salt and pepper, then drizzle lemon over the leeks before serving.

________

Betsy Wharton is a Port Angeles Farmers Market vendor, Washington State University Extension food preservation information assistant and a registered nurse at First Step Family Support Center. More about her pickling enterprise can be found at www.Clallam CanningCompany.com.

Leeks were recently picked from the snow-covered ground in Betsy Wharton’s garden. (Betsy Wharton/for Peninsula Daily News)

Braised leeks with bacon and thyme. (Betsy Wharton/for Peninsula Daily News)

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