Warm leeks with vinaigrette

(joanne rathe/globe staff)
May 21, 2008

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Serves 4

Although leeks are available year-round, in the spring this cousin of garlic and onions has a delicate, grassy flavor. They're an essential ingredient in the chilled potato-leek soup, vichyssoise, but their history dates to ancient Egypt. Many modern cooks find them superior to common yellow onions, because the flavor is subtle in soups and braises. But leeks can also stand alone as a side dish or first course, grilled, stuffed, baked under a cheese coating, or simmered and served with a piquant sauce or garnish. Here, the slender green stalks are rinsed well, trimmed to leave about 1 inch of the pale green part, and paired with mustard vinaigrette. You could also spoon over chunky sauce gribiche made with cooked eggs, parsley, and capers, or a lemony mayonnaise. Use the leek cooking water again to make soup and add leftover cooked leeks to salads or sandwiches. To rid leeks of the grit that accumulates between the layers, soak them in a bowl of water for 10 minutes, swishing occasionally. Run them under water to release any remaining dirt.

Salt and pepper, to taste
8 leeks, trimmed to leave 1 inch of pale green, soaked, and rinsed
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup olive or walnut oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1. Bring a shallow pot of salted water to a boil.

2. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise, almost (but not quite) all the way. They should be attached at the root end. When the water comes to a boil, add the leeks, reduce the heat to a simmer, and set on the cover slightly askew. Cook for 15 minutes, or until the tip of a knife easily pierces the white part of the leeks. With tongs, lift them from the pot and drain on paper towels.

3. Cut the leeks so the halves are separated. Arrange them on a platter, cut sides up.

4. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, shallot, mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper. Slowly whisk in the oil in a stream until the dressing emulsifies.

5. Pour the vinaigrette over the leeks. Sprinkle with pepper, parsley, and chives. Leigh Belanger