Keeping this blog seems to have both exacerbated and validated my already well established habit of getting preoccupied, you could say slightly fixated, with one ingredient or a particular recipe. At present its leeks. It’s very late in the season I know, but there’s still time for a brief fling.
This Allium porrum phase began at my parents house near London a couple of weeks ago. My Mum has a vegetable garden which despite a hard, very cold and long English winter yielded a pretty fine crop of leeks this year. On the Saturday night – post large gin and tonic – Mum suddenly pulled on her gardening gloves and grabbed a small shovel and disappeared out of the back door. She was swallowed up the dark garden only to reappear a few minutes later beaming and brandishing a big bunch of long, slim leeks with bow-legged curves, scraggly roots and deep green tops. For part of supper she made a warm salad of leeks, cannellini beans, parsley and olive oil. We all agreed it was delicious. It was nice to see leeks taking center stage as opposed to hiding in the chorus. The recipe was jotted down in the notebook along with a general note to cook more leeks.
Back in Rome, where despite the occasional relapse, spring has most definitely sprung, I did just that. First I made the salad my mum had made. You cook three or four slim leeks – which have been halved lengthways and sliced thinly across – gently in plenty of butter, about 15 minutes or until they are soft and deliciously mushy. Then you mix them with some cooked cannellini beans, some lightly cooked peas if you like, a handful of finely chopped parsley, some coarse salt and a few glugs of good olive oil. We also had some goats cheese crumbled on top which is delicious.
But the salad aside it was the gently cooked leeks that really captured me, the ones cooked slowly in plenty of butter. Cooked this way leeks collapse into a soft, pale green, creamy mess, their already mild flavour is even softer and sweeter. On Monday I discovered leeks cooked this way are delicious just so. Scooped straight from the pan and squashed onto warm toast and seasoned with lots of freshly ground back pepper. On Tuesday I cooked more leeks in this way, really slowly, probably for about 40 minutes. I added a handful of fresh peas in the last five minutes, goats cheese and then stirred in some pasta. Vincenzo declared this his favourite, but he is pasta biased,
Then on Wednesday, yesterday, I made a leek and goats cheese frittata.
A frittata, which I’m sure you know, is a thick, flat and substantial Italian omelette. Like a French omelette a frittata is made with lightly beaten eggs – often enriched with various fillings – cooked in butter. But unlike an omelette, which is soft and runny, a frittata is firm and set – but never dry or rubbery – and never folded
I am very fond of a well made frittata and this one is especially nice. It’s the same gently cooked leeks, stirred with 6 lightly beaten eggs and topped with crumbled goats cheese, cooked on the hob and then finished briefly under the grill. A perfect trio really, simple and understated, the pools of soft, creamy, slightly acidic goats cheese are a perfect foil for the soft mild leeks in a bed of gently cooked eggs.
First prepare the leeks, you need about 250g to make the frittata. Cut off the base and the roots and most of the green top, I leave about 2″ of the pale green part. The darker green part of the leek which has a coarse flavour and a tough texture is very good for the stockpot. Insert a knife just above the base and slice up to the top, thereby splitting the leek in two with the halves still attached at the base. Rinse the leeks carefully under fast running water. Finally slice the leeks thinly across so you have slim half moons.
For this particular frittata you melt a generous slice of butter in a frying pan or skillet and add about 250g of sliced leeks. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally until the leeks have collapse into a soft, rumpled mess. Allow them to cool a little.
In a large bowl beat 6 – 8 large eggs with a fork until they are evenly mixed and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Tip the soft leek mixture in with the eggs and stir gently until the ingredients are combined. Turn on your grill. Melt a knob of butter in the non stick pan or skillet over a medium heat. Pour the eggs and leek mixture into the pan and turn the heat to low. Crumble and scatter about 100g of goats cheese over the top. When the eggs have set and only the surface of the frittata is runny put the frying pan/skillet under the grill for a minute or two (keep an eagle eye on it) until the surface is golden and slightly puffed up and proud and the cheese has melted into little white pools.
Serve with a leaf salad (Romane lettuce and deep red raddichio) dressed with coarse salt, extra virgin olive oil, We also had warm pizza bianca.
So there you have it a week of leeks. There have been lemons too but more about that another day.
I hope you are all well and spring has sprung for you too, Have a good weekend.