The quality of leeks may not be strained but the quantity of them in my kitchen most certainly is. Such a surfeit of leeks would suggest that I am in the throes of creating a celebratory dish for the imminent release of Julian Assange. But the prosaic truth is that I have been overwhelmed by a glut of neighbourly generosity rather than pricked by political conscience. Is it unreasonable, the leek being part of the onion family, for me to be surprised by its onioniness? But surprised I am and have been: far too often. My expectation of this handsome, even pretty, vegetable is a melting, buttery softness made savoury by judicious seasoning. My benchmark for a well behaved leek would be its performance in a carefully balanced leek and potato soup which, at its best, should have the the character of a creamy potato soup with gentle overtones of leek. Pommes boulangère, a supper dish that I often make, has leeks as well as onion in the recipe and I have found that I am happier, when making my version of this dish, that the leeks should remain solely as words in the recipe, shall we say a politely ignored suggestion, One’s hopes may well be similarly dashed by the over bearing onion tones of the first tempting mouthful of a beautiful pale green leak tart which had seemed to promise so much more. Had I been hungering for such a flavour I would have made a pungent onion and anchovy pissaladière . However, rail as I may, I have never lost faith in the leek and, aside from cooking them in olive oil and red wine, have found that they react spectacularly well to the slowest of cooking in much more butter than one could ever deem to be wise; this to be done in a good thick pan, with a layer of grease proof paper over the leeks and with the lid on top. A little seasoning of pepper and sea salt and then just wait until they’re right for you. I put a layer of the butter soft leeks into a small eared dish and covered them with some left over mashed potato, over which I grated some Parmesan ( little lumps of Comté or Cheddar would be very good). All this then needs is to be put in the oven until the potato is nicely golden brown with crisp points. This little gem was found nestling unobtrusively at the end of a chapter in my new cookery book “The Kitchen Diaries II” by Nigel Slater.
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