The Gallivanting Gourmand
Greg Duncan
Greg Duncan
is a freelance writer based in the Montreal region. He is particularly keen about good food. In his day job, Greg is the executive director of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 06.15.04


Seek you the simple leek

Spring onions, spring asparagus, and spring rhubarb all are worthy ingredients for inclusion on family menus at this time of year. But what about a common vegetable that is often overlooked?

The leek is one such item that bursts with flavor yet lives a lonely life and rarely visits home kitchens. Restaurant chefs know of the value and subtle flavors that this lily relative possesses and home gourmets would be wise to add leeks to their recipe arsenal.

Unlike the occasionally sharp bite of a scallion or onion, the leek imparts delicate, garlic infused taste when used correctly.

Often used only for its white parts, the green leaves when sliced ever so thinly and softened in the likes of butter are divine. When recipes call for white parts only, save the green leaves for use in a homemade broth or sauté them and add them to recipes as you would onions.

Leave it to the French, who once called this wonderful cousin of garlic the asparagus for the poor. There may be some merit in this as leeks can and do grow wild. Small wild versions are prone to over-picking in this country and as such are endangered.

Foragers would be wise to check on local possession limits before filling up a basket of them. Fines can be heavy and, unfortunately, areas where leeks once grew are no more. This is due to the fact that once bulbs are picked they simply do not grow back.

There is no shortage of the larger domesticated versions at the market and they are as good as leeks get. It used to be that people often avoided them as they can require a good washing between leaves to remove all traces of grit. While this is still a good practice, growers have been providing well- washed produce that requires little effort prior to cooking.

Often used in quiches and soups perhaps the most famous was developed by the Scots. Cock-a-leekie soup is known worldwide as a cure-all for what ails you and although this traditional leek soup is a great way to make use of the family rooster, I thought it would be nice to provide a soup recipe that is a little more upscale.

Get yourself a good Quebec Brie cheese and a few good leeks and all will be well as we await the arrival of summer.

Cream of Brie and Leek Soup

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
8 large leeks (white parts only), finely chopped
4 cups or more unsalted chicken stock
1/2-cup all-purpose flour
4 cups half and half or whole milk
1 1/2 pounds Brie cheese, well chilled, cut into small cubes (with rind)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives

Melt 1/4-cup butter in heavy large deep skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and cook until translucent, stirring frequently, about 4 minutes. Add 4 cups stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until leeks are tender, about 25 minutes. Purée mixture in batches in blender.

Melt remaining 1/4-cup butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and stir 2 minutes. Blend in half and half or milk1 cup at a time; whisk until smooth. Add 1/4 of cheese and blend until smooth and melted.

Repeat with remaining cheese in batches.

Strain soup through fine sieve, pressing with back of spoon. Return to saucepan. Mix in leek purée over low heat, stirring constantly. Thin with more stock if desired. Season with salt. Ladle soup into bowls. Sprinkle with pepper and chives.