Leeks are ready for harvest in the winter in the Northwest. (Betsy Wharton/for Peninsula Daily News)

Leeks are ready for harvest in the winter in the Northwest. (Betsy Wharton/for Peninsula Daily News)

PENINSULA KITCHEN: Leeks, a mild onion relative, are great to have around

ON FEB. 17, I walked into TAFY (The Answer for Youth) to begin my weekly shift as garden grunt at their Sprouting Hope Greenhouse and was greeted with a shout, “Betsy, we have leeks.”

Now some of you might prefer a simple “Hello, and thanks for coming,” but given my enthusiastic zeal for anything vegetable, I took it as a welcome of sorts.

It amazes me how many gardeners we have in the community who grow beautiful vegetables and then donate them to a charitable organization.

The trick is to be ready to receive this unexpected bounty and make good use of it.

It is rather like the Iron Chef challenge of kitchen gardening.

Leeks, as you might know, are in the onion family and they are at their peak harvest season from December until early March in the Northwest.

They have a mild flavor; there will be no tears when preparing these alliums.

An important trick to know is that there is often soil hidden between the layers so you’ll want to make a linear slice into the leek, open up the layers and rinse before slicing.

The entire leek is edible but most people remove the top half or so and use only the white or pale green portion.

Rather than toss the green tops, I usually save them for the next batch of broth along with the potato peelings, carrot tops and any other less-than-perfect veggies you might have neglected in your fridge.

For TAFY, which serves a crockpot dinner to homeless folks four days a week, a thick and hearty potato leek soup made sense.

Here is a pair of recipes straight out of Julia Child’s classic cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” originally published in 1961.

The thing you will notice about both of these recipes is their simplicity.

The sweet flavor of freshly harvested leeks with a little butter and salt is all you really need.

Potage parmentier from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (1961) by Julia Child

3 cups or 1 pound thinly sliced leeks including the tender green portion

3-4 cups of potatoes, peeled if you wish and cut into chunks

2 quarts of water

1 tablespoon salt (or less)

4-6 tablespoons whipping cream or 2-3 tablespoons butter

2-3 tablespoons minced parsley

Simmer the vegetables, water and salt together partially covered, for 40 to 50 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

Mash or puree and adjust seasoning to taste.

Just before serving, stir in the cream or butter and decorate with herbs.

Braised leeks from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (1961) by Julia Child

12 leeks about 1½ inches in diameter

3-4 cups water

6 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon salt (or less)

Trim the roots, slit the leeks lengthwise and rinse under running water.

Cut off the green tops, leaving about 7 inches.

Layer the leeks in a heavy casserole or Dutch oven.

Pour in enough water to partially cover the leeks. Add butter and salt.

Set over high heat and bring to a boil.

Partially cover, allowing steam to escape and maintain liquid at a fairly fast boil for 10 minutes.

Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until leeks are tender, taking care not to let the water completely evaporate.

About 30 minutes before serving, transfer to the oven and bake uncovered at 325 degrees for 20 minutes or until the leeks are golden brown.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

________

Betsy Wharton is the proprietor of the Clallam Canning Co., a local purveyor of artisan pickles and other farm to jar goods. You can find her and her products at the Sprouting Hope Greenhouse at 826 E. First St. in Port Angeles. Or contact her at betsy@clallam canningcompany.com.

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