It’s like there is a switch in the middle of January which kicks everything into action again. Those few more minutes of extra daylight give out a message that even our geriatric chickens respond to. Suddenly we have eggs and all the green things in the garden perk up.
We have plenty to eat in our garden. Not a great deal of choice but we do have lots of kale, cabbage, brussels sprouts and winter salad. We have a mighty crop of leeks too with long white stems that we are very proud of and we’re still munching our way through last year’s pumpkin harvest.
The spinach and chard will begin to grow again in the tunnel soon and providing there isn’t a big freeze we’ll be picking outside by the end of March.
We have enjoyed many wintery feasts of soups, stews and gratins often complemented by the fresh crunch of slaw and our imagination and memories are always on the go, wondering how else we can cook these ingredients.
One dish that we resurrected is Poireaux a la Greque.
This long-forgotten recipe was from a time when we worked in a restaurant in Belgium. It was a fairly fancy bistro, which served leeks braised in white wine with coriander seeds, olive oil and lemons. The cooked leeks were then split down the centre and served with a line of creamy pink tuna piped down the middle. I could always live without the tuna part – which was simply tuna, mayo and tomato puree to make it go pink, but I did enjoy the leeks.
To celebrate our marvellous leeks, I began to play with the recipe again and we ate them piled on top of mash – any mash will do but I used carrots, celeriac and potatoes all buzzed to a puree with a generous amount of butter – served with crispy caramelised lentils strewn over the top.
This way of cooking the leeks elevates them to star status. They can be eaten with the combination that we had or can be simply served as a starter or alongside chicken or fish using the braising liquid as a sauce.
Poireaux a la Greque
• 6 leeks
• 1 large glass white wine
• 2tbs olive oil
• half a lemon
• 1 tsp coriander seeds
• Salt and pepper
First clean the leeks. Trim the ends, cut off the green part – put the greens aside for something else – you could use them in a soup or stew. Rinse the white part of the leeks under the tap, shake dry then line them up in the bottom of a large saucepan that has a lid.
Pour over the white wine, it should come roughly half way up the leeks. Drizzle over the olive oil, sprinkle over the coriander then squeeze over the lemon juice. Put the squeezed lemon in with the leeks. Season with salt and black pepper. Put the pot on the heat and when it comes to the boil cover with a lid, reduce the heat, then gently simmer for 30 minutes.
To serve, strip off the very outer layer of each leek, lay on a plate or over mash then spoon a little cooking liquid over or around.
Crispy Caramelised Lentils
• 125g lentils
• 20g butter*
• 1 tbs olive oil
• 1tbs light muscovado sugar
• 2tsps white wine vinegar
Put the lentils into small saucepan, cover with at least twice the volume of water then bring to the boil. Turn the heat to low so that they are simmering gently then cover with a lid. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until the lentils are tender – try a few to check.
Drain the lentils, rinse under the cold tap then shake dry.
Put a small frying pan on the heat. Add the butter and olive oil and when it foams up stir in the lentils. Season with a little salt. Cook on a high heat stirring until the lentils begin to colour. Add the muscovado sugar and white wine vinegar. Mix well then continue to cook and shake until crispy.
* If you would like to make this dish vegan omit the butter and use a little more olive oil