Today’s Meatless Monday blog was written by Catherine Bilinski, a volunteer testing and tasting recipes from our Vermont Fresh: A Fruit and Vegetable Handbook. She takes us into her kitchen and shares her stories and tips for cooking a delicious Braised Scallions or Leeks in Mustard-Cream Sauce with Smoked Spanish Paprika.
This accompanies a pork loin or chops particularly well, so pull this out for company but still keep it handy for family occasions. Everyone wants and needs to feel this special from time to time! While the roast rests, use the pan drippings after removing all but 1 Tbsp of the fat, deglazing the pan with the stock and wine.
Scallions are what I grew up calling green onions. Leeks are their similar-looking but much larger cousins. Leeks are trimmed as shown in the photo to the right. Typically, they’re sandy, so cut straight down through the stalk just below the palest green and then up through the entire end of the trimmed green portion. Gently separate the layers and wash carefully under running water.
2 bunches scallions or 8 slender leeks
½ Cup chicken stock
½ Cup white wine
¼ Cup cream or evaporated milk
1 tsp smoked Spanish paprika
Trim the root tips and 1 to 2 inches of the green tops from the scallions, then pull off any outer white layer that looks a bit sad. In a shallow pan wide enough to hold them flat, braise the scallions over medium heat until just tender through the white parts, turning them with tongs. Remove to the serving platter to the side of the roast, tented with foil to keep them hot. Whisk in the smoked paprika and let the remaining liquid in the pan reduce to about ½ cup, raising the heat if necessary. Then off heat, add the cream or milk, stir to incorporate and transfer into a sauce boat. Serve immediately.
Leeks belong to the Allium (onion) family, as you may have been able to guess from the way they look, but their more delicate flavor and texture makes them a specialty vegetable. Popular in upscale restaurants, leeks also lends themselves to simple home-cooking. Leeks were highly esteemed by the ancient Romans and have remained popular through the centuries. Instead of forming a bulb beneath the soil, leeks form a long cylinder of tightly bunched leaves that branch out at the top. The firm, white, base of this cylinder is the part that is generally eaten. To keep the base of the leeks white, soil is generally pushed up around them, which keeps that part of the plant from producing chlorophyll. As a result, dirt often lodges in the crevices around the base of the leaves, meaning leeks need careful cleaning.
Leeks can be found in winter and summer varieties with different stem heights and thicknesses. Winter leeks are hardier, so choose those varieties for the earliest plantings. You can begin seeds indoors as early as March and transplant as soon as the soil can be worked. Seedlings should be transplanted into troughs 4-6 inches deep, with only about half of the leaves showing above the ground. Leeks take from 3-4 months to reach maturity, so be sure to leave plenty of time for them to grow to full size (though baby leeks are a delicacy, too). Leeks prefer very fertile, well-drained soil with plentiful nitrogen and will benefit from frequent weeding. For longer, whiter stalks, hill soil up around the stems a few times over the summer as the plants grow.
Leeks store best in chilly root cellars, hilled in sand with the leaves poking out. They can also be wrapped in plastic bags in stored in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator, though they will only last a few weeks at best that way. Some leek growers report being able to leave leeks in the ground to overwinter for spring use, but extreme freezes will damage quality, so mulch heavily if going that route.
Leeks are a good source of potassium and iron. They also contain beta carotene and Vitamin C. Like other members of the allium family, leeks are touted for their health benefits and for preventing against long-term diseases.
Cut off the base of the leek, just trimming off the roots but leaving the stem as intact as possible. Trim the leaves and discard or set aside for use in stock. If you are planning to chop the leeks for use anyway, proceed to chop and then wash the leek segments very thoroughly afterward. If serving whole, slit the upper portion into quarters. Then soak and rinse repeatedly.
To receive more recipes and tips on your favorite fruits and vegetables, downloadVermont Fresh: A Fruit and Vegetable Handbook.