You won’t see me sporting a shamrock this month, but you might find me with a leek on my lapel.
I’m not a big believer in the influence of genealogy on our present-day likes and dislikes. But I have to admit that I did pause recently when I discovered that the leek is a national emblem of Wales—an emblem so revered that it is worn on a lapel pin to celebrate the country's patron saint every March. You see, I am part Welsh and I do, in fact, have this thing about leeks. It must be genetic, right?
Years ago, when I lived in Central America, my friends would regularly flatter me by observing that even though my eyes are blue and my skin is light, I could pass for Nicaraguan.
One day friends asked me about my family history, and when I revealed that my grandmother was Portuguese, there was a collective, “Aha!” I wasn’t exactly Latina, but my kin (at least some of them) came from the Iberian Peninsula. That explained it!
Like most people, the stories of my ancestors fascinate me, but I am doubtful how much my genealogy can tell me about things like my lack of self-control in the presence of Nicaraguan fried cheese or my obsession with a particular allium.
Nonetheless, I have to admit that in one of my recurring fantasies, I am an old leek farmer. I wear frumpy woolen clothes and muddy rain boots and spend my days tending my small plot of leeks.
Maybe "fantasy" is the wrong word here. But the point is that there is something about the leek that speaks to me in a way that feels deep and meaningful and familiar. Or maybe I just really love leeks.
In any case, I found the most tender, lovely leeks this Saturday at my local farmers market. Some were as thin as my pinky. There wasn’t a speck of grit. I grabbed up the bunch and told the farmer I’d take them all.
I hope I didn’t seem too greedy, but good leeks will do that to me. I’m blaming my ancestors.
To make braised leeks:
Get your hands on a generous bunch of young leeks—enough to fill the bottom of your pan in a single layer. Remember that you will cut off the stem end and most of the green part of the vegetable, so what you end up with will be a much smaller amount than it might seem when you purchase or harvest your leeks.
Slice off the dark green ends of the leeks and split the leeks lengthwise, leaving the root end intact. Look inside the leaves for dirt and wash the leeks as needed. Remove the stem end.
Gently sauté the leeks in a generous splash of olive oil over medium heat until they begin to brown and soften. Try to keep the leeks lined up in a row so that they are prettier and easier to serve.
Add a cup or so of chicken stock and salt as needed. (My stock is salty, so I don’t add any extra.) Cover the pan and simmer twenty minutes or so until the leeks are very soft and most of the liquid is evaporated.
Mix one cup of breadcrumbs (I like panko-style best) with two tablespoons of melted butter. Sprinkle over the top of the leeks. Add some grated cheese. I used a mild goat Gruyere, which was especially delicious. Broil for five minutes or until golden brown.