Tarte aux Poireaux: Leek Tart (Recipe)
Ideas on how to cook with leeks, the sweetest member of the onion family
When I moved to the U.S. umpteen years ago, I was surprised to discover how hard it was to find leeks, and how expensive they were once located. A tasty, cheap staple of my stone-broke early twenties in the U.K. was more like a gourmet treat in Manhattan. They’re still on the pricey side, but worth it.
Leeks are members of the onion family, chubby relatives of chives and scallions, with a mild, sweet flavor. Who doesn’t like leek and potato soup? Vichyssoise, the creamy posher version that’s served chilled, sounds French but was actually invented by the chef at Manhattan’s Ritz Carlton in the early 1900s. (Pronounce it vishy-swahz, by the way, not vishy-swah.)
When you’re buying leeks, choose straight, firm ones; those with bulbous ends will probably be woody inside. Use the white and pale green parts and save the dark green leaves for stock. Split them lengthways and wash them carefully under cold, running water — they’re often gritty inside.
You can use leeks in any dish in which you’d use an onion or shallot. They add a bright flavor to soups and stews. Cut them into thin rounds, sautéed in butter or olive oil until they’re soft and they’re a nice addition to omelets, scrambled eggs or mashed potatoes. Sauté, then finish with a splash of white wine and some heavy cream to make a side dish. Or make a galette by layering mandolin-sliced, peeled russet potatoes with chopped leeks and grated Gruyere in an oiled cast-iron skillet, and bake at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes. For something a bit more elegant, place a salmon filet on buttered parchment paper, top with thin-sliced leeks, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh thyme, then wrap and bake for about 15 minutes.
Here’s a recipe I clipped long ago when Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche was on the best-seller list. Perhaps for that reason, it’s called Tarte aux Poireaux, which is just French for leek tart. If you want to jazz it up, you can add herbs or wild mushrooms or ribbons of Swiss chard. I know several real men who think it’s delicious.
Tarte aux Poireaux (Leek Tart)
• 4 to 8 trimmed leeks (about a pound)
• 3 eggs
• 1 egg yolk
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 2 Tbs butter
• Salt and pepper
• Pastry for a 9- or 10-inch pie (your own short crust, or ready-made)
- Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a pie or quiche pan with pastry, cover with wax paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 10 minutes, remove weights and paper and bake for 5 more minutes. Remove from oven. Reduce heat to 350.
- Trim, split and carefully wash the leeks. Chop crosswise into fine rounds. You should have about 5 cups.
- Combine the eggs, egg yolk and half a cup of the cream in a large bowl. Set aside.
- Heat the butter in a skillet over medium heat, add the leeks, salt and pepper to taste, and cook for about five minutes, stirring often.
- Add the remaining half cup of cream to the leeks and simmer gently for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, then add to the egg and cream mix and blend well.
- Pour the mix into the part-baked pie shell and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes or until the top is golden.
A note to gardeners: Leeks are easy to grow, as long as you have the patience to set out plants that are like little green hairs. They have stumpy roots, so they need a bed rich in nutrients. I give the plants a dose of fish emulsion every three weeks when I water, too. If you take the trouble to hill them up, you get longer white parts. Best of all: with leeks going for over a buck apiece in the markets, you’ll feel rich.