Our leeks are pulled, stripped and trimmed by hand. Surviving the grim hardship of a January day spent bent over in a windswept field with 5 kilos of mud clinging to each boot also requires a zen-like quality possessed by only a small minority. I reckon the pickers deserve to be paid more than bankers but I’m not sure we would sell many leeks if they were. The winter-hardy varieties ready at Christmas tend to be shorter and stouter with darker leaves, and arguably they taste better for the climatic hardship they have experienced.
Leeks tend to harbour a bit of mud. If you have only one to clean, cut it in half lengthways, leaving the root base intact. Hold each half under the cold tap, root end up, fanning out the leaves with your fingers. For a bigger batch, it’s easier to slice the leeks first: cut off the root base and the dark green top and use the white and paler green section. Let the rings soak for a few minutes in a bowl of cold water so the dirt sinks, then drain in a colander.
Riverford leek & smoked cheese pithivier
Pithivier is a circular puff pastry pie with a curved pattern cut into it. You could add some sliced mushrooms to the leek mixture.
knob of butter
1kg leeks, finely shredded
100g cream cheese
sea salt & ground black pepper
80g smoked cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp chopped chives
2 sheets ready rolled all-butter puff pastry (you need about 600g if making your own or rolling out a block; roll to about ½-¾cm)
1 egg yolk, mixed with a splash of milk
Melt the butter in a large pan. Add the leeks and cook gently for about 10 mins until soft. Add the cream cheese and stir until melted. Season well. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheddar and chives. Leave to cool completely. Roll out one piece of the pastry on a lightly floured work surface and use a dinner plate as a template to cut around to make a circle. Spread over the leek mixture, leaving a gap of 5cm all the way around the pastry circle. Roll out the other half of the pastry and lay over the top. Press the edges down to seal. Trim the edges. Brush with eggwash. Use a sharp knife to score curved lines on top of the pie and the edges. Bake at 180°C for about 30 mins, until the top is golden brown and the pastry cooked through. Serve warm.
leeks with garlic cream & tarragon
serves 4-6 as a side
Halve the leeks lengthways, and slice into 1cm slices at an angle. Gently heat the butter in a saucepan add the leeks, season and cook on a low heat for 15-20 mins until soft, tender but not coloured. Place the garlic in a small pan with the cream and bring to a simmer. Cook gently for 10 mins until the garlic has cooked, and the cream has reduced and thickened. Fold into the leeks, adjust the seasoning and add the chopped tarragon.
serves 4-6 as a side
A sweet and sour poaching liquor can simply lift humble vegetables to a new level. This would work equally well with cauliflower, romanesco, or carrots. You’re looking for a good mix of sweet and sour, so tweak the lemon and sugar to taste.
600g leeks, trimmed
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed or chopped
100ml good olive oil
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tbsp dried dill
Peel off any tough or muddy outer leaves from the leeks and chop into 5cm lengths. Soak in a bowl of cold water to remove any grit, turning now and then, and rinse. Put the olive oil, garlic, 1 tbsp of the sugar, the lemon juice and 300ml water in a pan. Add the leeks and gently toss together and bring to a simmer over a medium heat for approx. 15 mins, or until the leeks are soft. Add a splash more water if needs be to stop them drying out. Stir the parsley and dill into the cooked leeks. Check the seasoning and adjust sugar, lemon juice or salt while the leeks are still warm to give a good mix of sweet and sour. Serve the leeks on a platter or in a large bowl, with the poaching liquor spooned over the top. For a more intense flavour, reduce the liquor down a little before pouring it over.
leek and feta fritters
A very moreish starter or light lunch with a bitter leaf salad. The dip includes sumac, a deep-red, lemony spice used a lot in Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s increasingly available in supermarkets, but if you can’t find it, use a little extra lemon juice and a couple of grinds of pepper instead.
for the fritters:
3 leeks, washed, trimmed and finely sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large eggs
50g crème fraîche
70g self-raising flour
30g gram (chickpea) flour (or just use a total of 100g self-raising flour)
1 tsp baking powder
80g feta, crumbled
small bunch of tarragon, leaves chopped
dash of milk (if necessary)
sunflower oil, for frying
salt and black pepper
for the dip:
zest and juice of ½ lemon
150g crème fraîche
sumac (or see introduction for alternative)
lemon wedges, to serve
Heat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Lightly fry the leeks in the butter and oil in a frying pan over a medium heat until starting to soften, about 7 minutes. Whisk the eggs and crème fraîche until light and starting to increase in volume. Sift in the self-raising flour, gram flour, if using, and baking powder and gently mix into a batter. Fold in the leeks, feta and tarragon. Add a pinch of cayenne and some salt and pepper. You should have a consistency that will drop slowly from a spoon. If too dry, add a dash of milk; too wet, add a pinch of flour. Pour oil into a frying pan to a depth of about 5mm and heat until a test teaspoonful of batter sizzles immediately. Using a spoon, add three or four separate dollops of batter to the pan. Push each one with the back of the spoon until you have small patties about 8cm across. Cook until golden, about 3–4 minutes on each side. Remove the cooked fritters to a baking tray and repeat until you have used up the batter. You may need to heat up fresh oil between batches if it starts to run dry. When all are done, place the fritters in the oven for 10–12 minutes to warm through. Meanwhile, make the dip. Mix the lemon zest into the crème fraîche with a pinch of salt and add the lemon juice to taste. Sprinkle liberally with sumac and serve with the lemon wedges.
* Add chopped, fried crispy bacon to the batter, or replace the feta with cooked, shredded chicken.
* Instead of tarragon use dill or mint.
leek and Parmesan tart
The secret of this recipe lies in cooking the leeks long and slow, so that they become sweetly caramelised. The rest takes no time at all and you can exercise your imagination adding extra toppings.
3–4 tbsp olive oil, or 50g butter
6 large leeks, washed, dried and thinly sliced
bunch of thyme, tied with string
1 x 300g ready-rolled sheet all-butter puff pastry
25g Parmesan (or vegetarian equivalent), finely grated
salt and black pepper
Heat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6. Heat the oil or butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the leeks and thyme. Slow-fry the leeks until they are very soft and starting to brown, a good 10–15 minutes. Cover the pan initially to help them sweat, then take off the lid halfway through so the liquid evaporates. Stir at intervals to stop them catching. Season with salt and pepper then cool. Meanwhile, lay out your pastry flat on a lightly greased non-stick baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes until it has completely puffed up and is golden brown. (Check the bottom of the pastry is cooked too.) Flatten the pastry back down by covering it evenly with the leek mixture, leaving 5mm around the edge. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and any other toppings (see suggestions below) and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes, until the cheese has melted. Serve warm.
* Onions work as a replacement for or combined with the leeks.
* Experiment with extra toppings, just like a pizza: try anchovies, olives or different cheeses, such as mozzarella or goat’s cheese.
For more ideas for a Christmas rich in veg, download our seasonal booklet full of recipes and tips from our Riverford cooks and you, our customers. Available to download here: www.riverford.co.uk/christmas-veg.