Sleek Leeks

Lucky for us, leeks have a long growing season in the Pacific Northwest.

RECIPES AND PHOTOS BY CARRIE HUSEMAN

Leeks are an excellent workhorse in the kitchen, particularly during the wintertime when they can be added to almost any warm dish for a hefty boost in flavor. As allium vegetables, leeks are closely related to onions, garlic, shallots, and chives, yet prized for their sweeter and more mellow taste. Cooking them softens their sulfur compounds and unearths an irresistible buttery flavor and creamy texture.

Lucky for us, leeks have a long growing season in the Pacific Northwest and can be harvested through winter and into early spring. Use the white and light green portions of the stalk; the dark green tops are a bit too tough to eat but can be saved for stock. Leeks trap dirt and sand easily, so after cutting off their root and tops, slice them in half lengthwise and peel back small sections of their layers while rinsing under running water.

Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Buttery Leeks, Lemon, and Crème Fraîche

Serves 4–6 | 35 minutes

Ingredients

  • kosher or sea salt
  • 1 pound whole-wheat spaghetti
  • 2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise (about 2 heaping cups)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • black pepper, freshly cracked
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • zest from 1/2 medium lemon
  • 3/4 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano and/or pecorino cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche

Recipe

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add a couple good pinches of salt and toss in the spaghetti. Cook according to package instructions, but pull from the heat 2 minutes shy of cooking time and reserve a cup of pasta water before draining. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, rinse the leek stalks under running water to remove any remaining dirt or sand, holding the layers together and peeling back a section at a time to clean. Pat dry with a clean towel. Place the leeks, cut-side face down, on a cutting board and slice them into half moons about 1/4” thick across the stalk.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add butter and olive oil. After the butter is melted and begins to foam, toss in the leeks. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir. Sauté until the leeks have softened a bit, but avoid letting them brown or caramelize; turn down the heat if need be.

Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and lemon zest. Stir and cook through for a minute or two. Spoon the cooked pasta into the skillet and stir in the cheese. Splash the reserved pasta water in, a little at a time, tossing as you go, until the noodles are creamy and evenly coated with a cheesy sauce. Stir in parsley. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Spoon pasta into bowls and top each with more cheese, a dollop of crème fraîche, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Skillet Chicken Thighs with Caramelized Leeks, Preserved Lemon, and White Wine

Serves 4 | 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 large or 8 small bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • kosher or sea salt
  • black pepper, freshly ground
  • 2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise (about 2 heaping cups)
  • 1/4 preserved lemon, inside removed, and peel minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • Crusty bread or roasted potatoes, to serve

Recipe

Warm a large skillet over medium heat and add olive oil. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper, then add to the skillet, skin-side down. Cook without moving the pieces, until the skin is crispy and a rich golden-brown color, 15–20 minutes. Adjust heat as needed to avoid burning.

Meanwhile, rinse the leek stalks under running water to remove any remaining dirt or sand, holding the layers together and peeling back a section at a time to clean. Pat dry with a clean towel. Place the leeks cut-side face down on a cutting board and slice them into half moons about 1/4” thick across the stalk.

After the first side of the chicken is ready, give it a flip and repeat on the underside. Let cook for about 5 minutes, then toss in the leeks. Coat them with the chicken juices, season with pepper, and allow them to soften and brown just a bit until lightly caramelized at the edges. Again, adjust heat as needed to avoid burning.

Add the preserved lemon peel to the pan and stir to combine. Cook for a minute or so, then add the wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. While the wine reduces, toast the pine nuts in a dry pan over medium-low heat until they start to lightly brown, 3–5 minutes.

The chicken is finished cooking after the meat around the bone is cooked through. When done, stir the butter into the leeks until melted, then remove skillet from the heat and add pine nuts and rosemary. Taste the leeks, adding salt if needed (preserved lemon tends to vary in its saltiness).

Serve with plenty of crusty bread or roasted potatoes to mop up the sauce.

Winter Squash Soup with Apples, Leeks, and Ginger-Thyme Brown Butter

Serves 4–6 | 1 hour

For the soup

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 pounds winter squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped into 1” pieces (5–6 cups)
  • 1 medium apple, peeled, seeded, and chopped into 1” pieces
  • 2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise (about 2 heaping cups)
  • kosher or sea salt
  • black pepper, freshly ground
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 quart (4 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup

For the brown butter

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 teaspoons thyme leaves, left whole or chopped if large
  • kosher or sea salt
  • to serve:
  • cooked grain, such as brown rice, spelt, or wheat berries
  • plain yogurt or crème fraîche
  • toasted seeds or nuts, such as pepitas, cashews, or pecans

Recipe

Warm a large soup pot over medium heat. Add butter and olive oil. Once the butter begins to foam, toss in the squash and apple. Stir to combine and cook down a bit, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, rinse the leek stalks under running water to remove any remaining dirt or sand, holding the layers together and peeling back a section at a time to clean. Pat dry with a clean towel. Place the leeks cut-side face down on a cutting board and slice them into half moons about 1/4” thick across the stalk.

Stir leeks into the pot and add a large pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until leeks are soft, then add garlic and stir to combine. Cook for another minute or two, then add stock, thyme, and a few good squeezes of lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer until the squash and apples can be pierced through with a fork, about 15 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, make the brown butter. Place butter in a small pot with a light-colored bottom so you are able to see the butter start to brown. Melt it over medium-low heat, and swirl or stir occasionally to ensure even cooking. The butter will begin to foam as it melts, and the color will become darker. Once you see tiny brown specks and it smells toasty and nutty, immediately remove the pan from the heat and stir in the ginger. It will seize up; stir a bit, then allow to settle and cool slightly. Stir in thyme and a pinch of salt.

After the soup is finished cooking, turn off the heat and discard thyme sprigs. Use an immersion blender to purée the soup until smooth and creamy. Alternatively, transfer soup to a blender and purée in batches, then return soup to the pot. Stir in maple syrup. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice as needed until it tastes well-balanced.

To serve, ladle soup into bowls and spoon a scoop of grain on top if you wish. Add toppings, such as a dollop of yogurt or crème fraîche and toasted seeds or nuts. Drizzle with a spoonful of the ginger-thyme brown butter.

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