It's not easy being green: Skye Gyngell puts leeks centre stage

Poor man's asparagus best used as a base vegetable? Absolutely not...

Sweet, tender and mellow, leeks are at their very best at this time of year. Look for small tender ones, not much thicker than your middle finger. They are perfect steamed or poached, and delicious just brushed with olive oil and grilled; served with aioli, they make a simple but beautiful first course.

Leeks have a wonderful affinity with fish and poultry. In France, they are known as poor man's asparagus, but are nonetheless appreciated for their delicate, succulent flavour. They are also invaluable used in conjunction with other ingredients such as carrots and celery to form the base of soups and slow-cooked dishes.

Before you start, make sure you wash the leeks well under running water to remove the grit and dirt that tends to settle at their roots. Here are three recipes that showcase leeks as the star of a dish: a nice way to appreciate their unique and subtle flavour.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, www.petershamnurseries.com

Poached leeks with butter and Parmesan

This sweet vegetable dish works with both baby and standard leeks. At home, I serve it with either roast chicken or no other accompaniment than a salad made of young spring leaves.

Serves 4

4 large or 16 small leeks
Enough water to cover
Sea salt and black pepper
120g/4oz unsalted butter
150g/5oz Parmesan cheese, grated

Wash the leeks thoroughly under cold running water. Pat dry and, using a sharp knife, cut off the dark green leaves at the top and slice off the base, leaving only the tender white stalk. Slice across into quarters and place in a shallow, heavy-based casserole.

Add enough water to cover. Season with salt and pepper and add the butter. Place over a medium heat and bring to a boil.

Turn down the heat to a gentle simmer and poach until about three-quarters of the water has evaporated. Add the Parmesan and taste for seasoning.

Let the dish sit for five minutes or until the Parmesan has melted and been incorporated into the rich, buttery sauce. Serve with roast chicken or grilled fish.

Leeks vinaigrette with eggs mimosa, capers and black olives

Serves 4

20-24 trimmed young leeks, well washed
200ml/7fl oz verjuice or sweet white wine
300ml/10fl oz water
8 whole black peppercorns
4 thyme sprigs
3 bay leaves

For the vinaigrette

11/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp single cream
Sea salt and black pepper
11/2 tbsp red-wine vinegar
80ml/3fl oz extra-virgin olive oil

To finish

2 eggs, hard-boiled
1 tbsp capers, preserved in salt and well rinsed in tepid water
A handful of black olives (ideally Niçoise or Ligurian)
Small bunch of curly parsley, stalks removed and finely chopped

Check that the leeks are thoroughly clean. Pour the verjuice and water into a pan (large enough to hold all the leeks) and add the peppercorns, thyme and bay leaves. Place over a medium heat and bring to a gentle boil, then add the leeks. Turn down the heat slightly and simmer gently for 8-10 minutes, or until tender.

Next, make the dressing. Put the mustard and cream into a small bowl, add a little salt and pepper and whisk together. Add the wine vinegar and stir to combine. Now, slowly add the olive oil in a thin, steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify. Set aside for five minutes, to allow the flavours to get to know each other.

Meanwhile, peel the hard-boiled eggs and grate on the finest holes of your grater – they should have a very light texture. As soon as the leeks are cooked, remove from the pan and drain on kitchen paper. Lay neatly on top of each other on warm plates and spoon over half of the vinaigrette. Scatter the grated eggs, capers and olives randomly on top. Drizzle over the last of the vinaigrette, dust with pepper and sprinkle with chopped parsley to serve. '

Leeks with roasted shallots and balsamic vinegar

Serves 4

12 banana shallots
2tbsp olive oil
1tbsp balsamic vinegar
A sprig of lemon thyme
Sea salt and black pepper
12 small leeks

Heat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas7. Remove the outer skin of the shallots and slice in half lengthwise. Place in a roasting tray, toss with the oil, salt and pepper, drizzle over the balsamic, and scatter over the thyme. Cover with foil and place on the middle shelf of the oven and roast for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and roast for a further 20 minutes. The shallots should be a lovely golden-brown and caramelised.

While the shallots are cooking, remove the green leaves from the leeks and pat dry. Place in a saucepan large enough to hold them comfortably, season with a little salt and pepper and add enough water to cover. Place over a medium heat and poach for five minutes; the leeks should be just tender to the bite. Strain and dress with a little olive oil. Remove the shallots from the oven and leave to rest for five minutes, at which point, toss the leeks with the shallots and serve. I sometimes crumble delicate spring goat's cheese over the top .

The Forager by Wendy Fogarty

Petersham's food sourcer on the best places to buy leeks and their seeds...

Though similarly a member of the allium family, leeks are more subtle and delicate than onions and give a deep, sweet depth of flavour to dishes. There are two leek seasons: spring and summer. Spring leeks are eaten in the year following planting, and are those that are currently available.

To buy

Eden Farms, an organic-vegetable farm in north Lincolnshire, sells its leeks via its box scheme and at local farmers' markets (01790 763 582, www.edenfarms.co.uk)

For details of farmers and growers in your area, visit www.bigbarn.co.uk

To grow

The Real Seed Company, a small, independent seed producer in Wales, sells four varieties of leek, including Meziers Long Winter leek for winter/spring harvest and Jaune de Poitou (yellow leek) for early harvest (01239 821 107, www.realseeds.co.uk)

Marshalls Seeds sells two varieties: leek prenora plants (plant in May and harvest from end of September to end of March) and Musselburgh leek plants (plant in May and harvest from December to end of March. 01480 443 390, www.marshalls-seeds.co.uk)

To read

Food Wales by Colin Pressdee (Graffeg, £12.95)

Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book by Jane Grigson (Penguin, £10.99)

Onions without Tears: Cooking with Onions and Shallots, Garlic and Leeks by Lindsay Bareham (Penguin, £12.50)

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence