Like many Southlanders we grow our own leeks for as much of the year as possible.
As my first 40 sturdy specimens made their way through winter's first snow this month, my guess is we'll be leek-happy until early August.
With this versatile veg to hand, it's easy and satisfying to whip up something "on the spur of", or to slide a leek-based stew into a slow oven before an energetic bout of leaf raking or wood chopping.
Way back, the Roman nobility were keen on leeks; the vain Emperor Nero even believed they improved his singing voice. The leek was a superior vegetable, a Roman cookery book declared, dismissing onions and garlic as "coarse food for the poor".
Steady on! But it's true that the milder-flavoured Welsh national emblem can happily take the place of onions in any dish - or stand gloriously alone.
For a moreish gratin, braise whole baby leeks in chicken stock, reserve liquid, then make a cheese sauce with equal parts milk and the drained stock. Pour over veg, scatter with paprika (optional) and breadcrumbs and pop under the grill until the top is bubbling.
My other favourite leek dish is quite tangy. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and a knob of butter over a medium heat in a large heavy-based pan. Meanwhile, finely slice 3 medium or 2 large leeks (including some green) and add to foaming fats in pan. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring often.
Add a can of diced tomatoes and a few chopped Kalamata olives. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for a further 8-10 minutes. Now add a good squeeze of lemon juice and some finely chopped parsley and stir to combine.
Serve as is, or finish with crme friche, keeping pan on the heat for a further 3 minutes.
Brilliant either way with grilled meats, roast chicken or pickled pork - and lashings of mashed potato to soak up the juices.
Speaking of which, mashed potato is the perfect foil for the leeks and bacon in today's recipe. For the mash I use agria or desiree potatoes plus hot milk, a generous knob of butter and plenty of black pepper.
Warming on a wintry night with, say, grilled chicken or burgers and a golden- topped broccoli gratin.
POTATO, LEEK AND BACON CAKES (makes about 10)
4 large potatoes
|milk and butter for mashing|
|salt and freshly ground black pepper|
|5 rashers streaky bacon, sliced|
|1 large leek|
|2 Tbsp canola oil|
1. Peel, dice and cook potatoes until tender.
2. Drain then mash with milk, butter and seasoning to a firm consistency.
3. Cook bacon in a splash of oil in a non- stick frying pan over a medium heat, stirring as needed until crisp, and drain on kitchen paper.
4. Halve and slice leeks, including some green, return pan to heat and cook in the bacon fat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until soft.
5. Put mashed potato, bacon, leeks in a bowl and stir to combine.
6. Form flattish cakes; the mixture will make 8-10 of medium size.
7. Heat half of remaining oil in the non- stick frying pan over a medium-high heat.
8. Cook half the cakes for about 5 minutes each side, or until crisp and golden.
9. Repeat with remaining half of cakes.
- The Southland Times