Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Leeks, Squash and Necessity


From Alex at Ombailamos:
Have I mentioned this every-other-week produce box I get? There are now several of us in my office getting them, and we enjoy discussing WTH we are going to do with whatever odd thing was included. I have now coped with everything in the last box except for the pomegranates, which are leering redly at me from the end of the kitchen counter. I'm a little afraid of them.*
What DIDN'T scare me was the leeks! The lovely, lovely leeks. I've been hoping for some of those. I discovered fennel because of leeks, and it just so happened I was planning to do a fennel and onion thing for Thanksgiving. That turned into a fennel and leek thing. Oh, the deliciousness.
What is a leek? It's a really big green onion, like a scallion, with a very mild (for an onion) flavor, although it will still sting the eyes when you slice it.
LEEK AND FENNEL WITH ITALIAN CHEESE SAUCE
Components: 7 leeks, 2 large fennel bulbs; olive oil; spices; half & half; sour cream; Parmesan-Romano-Pecorino blend.
Process: Cut off the leek greens about 2" up from the white and discard the tops (Most recipes advise sticking to the white-to-pale green spectrum of the vegetable), and trim off the rootlets. Slice across the grain into one million casino-chip discs. Deposit into large, deep skillet.
Trim off the stalks, halve, and core the fennel bulbs; slice vertically into quarter-inch-wide pieces. Deposit with the leeks in the skillet.
Drizzle with olive oil and choice of seasonings (mine: white pepper and a little dry mustard), toss to coat, and cook over medium heat until tender, adding a small amount of water and/or sherry as needed to keep things from getting too dry and/or scorchy.
When tender, reduce heat to medium-low and pour in half & half just to cover the bottom of the pan. It will be hot almost immediately. Stir in a large spoonful (about 1/3 cup) of sour cream. Now add a generous amount of grated cheese (this could also be a Swiss cheese for a more traditional flavor profile) - I pretended I was covering a pizza crust - mix in thoroughly, and allow to cook until fully melted and blended, stirring occasionally.
That is all.
I infer that if you are using Swiss cheese, adding a little nutmeg can do wonders. I will try that next time ... just happen to have some Gruyere and some Emmenthaler on hand. I get a new box tomorrow. Will there be more leeks? I sure hope so!
The other new treatment was baked squash with spices, dried fruits, and cranberries. This ended up going in a direction not unlike the persimmon chutney, because I decided to use a balsamic glaze on it. Balsamic lover that I am, this took the dish from Pretty Darn Good to Yum.
SPICED BAKED SQUASH WITH WINTER FRUIT
The components: two Delicata squash and a Butternut; 8 oz fresh cranberries; about 20 dried apricot halves, diced; 10 dates, diced; salted butter; generous amounts of cardamom, cloves, allspice, ginger, and nutmeg.
The process: preheat oven to 350 and get out a baking dish. I used a 9x9 Pyrex. Clean the squash, remove the seeds etc., cut into reasonably small slices, and peel now if you're strong enough (I waited till it was cooked. That Butternut put up a fight). Deposit directly into the baking dish.
Pour the cranberries and diced fruits over the top and shake it all down. Now dot the top with cubes of butter. Now dust the top with your spice mix. Cover with foil and put it in the oven for 40 minutes.
Give the squash a stab with a fork and if it is tender enough for your taste, call it finished. If not, take off the foil and give it another ten minutes. Then take it out of the oven, put the foil back over the top, and let it cool - unless you are serving immediately. (This was a day-ahead preparation for me.)
If you are serving immediately, invert the baking dish into a large serving bowl and stir everything up so that all the squash pieces get thoroughly coated with spices and butter. Taste a piece now and decide if you need a little more sweetness - if so, add maple syrup. Or a little tartness - if so, go with balsamic.
Highly nutritious, pretty, and awfully easy.
So: what necessity was I talking about? The box, of course. Another one came today.

*I finally seeded the pomegranates. The sink looked like the shower scene from "Psycho" and the grout in the countertop still has red spots. However, the seeds - the beautiful, tart little ruby nuggets - are now accessible in a bowl in the fridge. HA.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

2 comments:

Ann said...

I used to belong to a group that got a box of fruit/veggies from the Farmers' Market twice a month. We all took turns buying. We HAD to buy potatoes, onions and a lunchbox fruit. The rest was up to the buyer's opinion of what was in season and how much money remained. When we picked up our boxes were could exchange with fellow members of the coop. I learned to like several new vegetables and fruits.

chacha1 said...

I have been getting a large charge out of the boxes ... I call them my personal "Chopped" baskets.
:-) It was funny how intimidating the leeks were to some of the others in the office!

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