Where we live in Blacon, a suburb of Chester City, we are surrounded by Leek fields. You can smell them in the air this time of year and it's a gorgeous smell. It makes your taste buds tingle and your mouth water. Leeks are a real autumn and winter favourite in our house and November 1st marks the beginning of the British Leek Season. I have to say with all honesty . . . there is no leek tastier than a fresh British Leek, grown in British soil and harvested and sold within days of being harvested. I love to buy local and buy fresh. Leeks are a seasonal treat we start to enjoy every autumn, and they figure heavily in our diet throughout the season.
Interestingly enough, Leeks have been cultivated since the time of the Ancient Egyptians and were probably, in all liklihood, a fundamental part of the diet of those who built the pyramids. Hippocrates the ancient Greek physician and ‘father of medicine’ prescribed the leek as a cure for nosebleeds.
Phoenician traders are said to have introduced the leek to Wales when they were trading for tin in the British Isles – an act that would unexpectedly elevate this humble veg to national status thousands of years later, for today the Leek is indeed theWelsh National Symbol!
Like garlic and onions, leeks are a member of the allium family. They have their own distinct flavour however, being quite harsh when raw (only very young leeks are eaten this way.) Once cooked, they develop a very delicate flavour, similar to a mild onion but with a extra hint of sweetness. Two thirds of their length is white and firm, and this is the part that is mainly eaten. The rest of the third is made up of the leaves (flags), most of which are discarded. I find them quite useful when making flavourful stocks. I find them to be a very versatile ingredient which works well both in hearthy main dishes, delicious side dishes, and of course in toothsome soups!
I recently used some to create a delicious pie . . . Ham Hock, Leek and Cheese Pie. Rich, buttery and flaky puff pastry, encasing a fabulous filling, perfectly showcases this delicious autumn/winter vegetable.
You get the smokiness of the ham hock . . . which goes wonderfully with the sweetness of leeks . . . leeks which have been sauteed in butter . . . long and slow to help bring out their very best . . .
Add to that the richess of double cream . . . and gruyere cheese, which has a nutty sweet flavour . . . and you have a beautiful combination of flavours that is at once sublime and yet quite outstanding in every way.
From the moment your fork breaks down through that buttery flakiness into that rich filling you know you are in for a real treat. And it does not disappoint . . . NOT in the least.
This is magnificent. End of. All you really need on the side is a mixed salad to complete your meal.
*Ham Hock, Leek and Cheese Pie*Serves 6
salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg250g of gruyere cheese, grated (1/2 pound)
100g of cooked ham hock, shredded750g puff pastry (1 1/2 pounds)
Heat the butter in a large skillet over low heat. Once it melts and begins to foam, add the leeks. Cook, stirring frequently, until they are very softened, without allowing them to colour. Stir in the flour Add the cream to the leeks, along with the nutmeg and some seasoning. Increase the heat to high, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat as soon as it begins to boil. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature. Stir in the ham hock and the cheese. Set aside.
Divide the pastry in half. Roll out each piece to a 10 inch in diameter circle on a lightly floured board. Place one disc onto the paper lined baking tray. Brush the surface lightly with some of the beaten egg mixture. Spoon the leek cheese filling into the middle of the pastry disc and spread it out, leaving a 1 inch border free all the way around the edge of the disc. Top with the other disc of pastry. Crimp the edges all the way around to seal. Brush the top with more of the beaten egg mixture. Make a few slits in top to vent.
For more information on this lovely British Vegetable do check out British Leeks. You will find more fun facts, nutritional information, growing information and a whole host of other recipes which showcase this very delicious and versatile vegetable!