All those leeks I was so excited about a few months ago decided to bolt to flower and had to be dug. I got half the bed out about 10 days ago and the second half out last week. I had to loosen them with a spading fork first and then gently pull them out of the ground. D. had done an excellent job of planting them in a furrow and then hilling the soil up around them so they were about 6-8 inches under the ground and had nice long sections of blanched white, the part you want to eat.
Once I had lifted them from the dirt and laid them in piles along the row, I sat on a stool and cut the long green tops and roots off with a knife and tossed them in a pile. My overwhelming thought was that I could never be a migrant worker and that most of us probably never think about the people that do back breaking work in the fields from dawn to dusk to bring food to the American table and for a pittance. I was only at it for an hour each time and my back hurt.
Cleaning the leeks was challenging, their roots were like thick brushes and held lots of dirt that I had to pull free before cutting/ripping the roots down to the bottom of the leek, being careful not to actually cut into the fleshy part. I understand why leeks are so expensive. For one thing their growing season is something like 300 days. We started the seeds for these in July of 2007, planted the young plants into the ground in September, dutifully weeded, and hilled the soil around them for good blanching and mulched and watered them through the winter. The reward:
We harvested quite a few through the early spring and now have about 100 in the fridge.
Leeks are also kind of a hassle to clean, all that hilling makes them collect dirt in the places where the layers turn to green, so they must be carefully washed to keep them from being gritty- if they are real bad I just rinse and then slice them and put them in a big bowl of water to let all the grit settle out and then lift them into a strainer to drain before I cook them. So why bother you might ask?
THE FLAVOR. They are sweeter and more tender than other onions. Cooked slowly in butter or olive oil in a covered skillet that allows them to sweat a bit and get very tender, they are creamy and like no other onion. A favorite dish of late is to brown lumps of Italian sausage in olive oil, add a big pile of chopped leeks and cook till tender. In another pot cook pasta- orechiette or penne are nice- just before the pasta is done, add a couple of big handfuls of cleaned greens- your choice at this time of year, chard, spinach, or kale are good - add a ladle or two of the pasta water to the skillet and then strain out the pasta and greens and toss into the skillet with the sausage and the leeks. Add salt and fresh black pepper and top with a nice grating cheese and yumm is the word.
Now maybe because the leeks were trying to flower, they had all these baby leeks around the base of the plants. They reminded me of the lower register keys on a clarinet or possibly a wood golf club. Some had long green tops and I stuck them back in the ground, others were tiny pearls and I'm suspicious that if we put them back in the ground they might make a fall leek crop and set up a beautiful leek regeneration cycle. We'll find out.
With some of these leeks I fixed one of the most delicious soups I have ever made, EVER.
Here is the recipe, I call it Cream of Spring Green Soup
Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a large stock pot
Rinse and chop 8-10 leeks and saute in the butter, put a lid on, lower heat and cook till tender
Add a quart of chicken broth and a quart of water and bring to a simmer.
Add a 1/4 t of cayenne and a 1/4 t of white pepper and 1 t of salt
The tender stems from two bunches of asparagus -about 6 cups (reserve tops for garnish)
2 cups of chard, stemmed and washed
1 cup of Italian parsley, stemmed and washed
Add more water or broth if you need to cover the veggies
Cook just until asparagus stems start to get tender
Add three cups of sugar snap peas and cook for about two minutes, just until the peas turn bright green.
Remove whole pot from the stove and put into a sink full of ice water and stir to cool quickly and preserve the bright green color.
When cool, puree in batches in a blender and then put through a food mill.
Cook the asparagus tips and another cup of snap peas, till bright green, refresh in ice water, chop and add to soup along with salt and pepper to taste and a little heavy cream. Can be served hot or cold. Also I think a little chopped ham, or crab or cooked shrimp added at the end would be good. You could make a smaller batch- I froze a lot of it to enjoy a cool taste of spring on a hot July night. DELISH!