Fuzzy tops like military crew cuts, great hulking greens spiking out, lush and savage and almost superfluous, fanning out in an attempt at elegance yet somehow, no matter what, retaining that something rustic. The poor country mouse cousin of slender green onions and much desired garlic.
The hardy leek is a mainstay of every French potager. Grandpas and young city folk head home with bundles of leeks piled in an old rusty wheelbarrow or tucked under an arm, trailing speckles of black earth behind them; leeks stick out from the top of shopping baskets like baseball bats, nowhere to hide. Leeks brought home from the market.
Leeks in the summer, leeks in the winter, leeks are a staple of every French kitchen.
Long white cylinders, a sheath of leaves, sliced into coins, cut into slivers and long thin strips. Steamed or braised whole until falling apart, shredding, floating in threads like Ophelia's hair on the surface of the lake, drained and lined up on a serving platter and smothered in tangy mustard vinaigrette, classic. Soups and tarts, stews and braised au gratin.
My mother-in-law, was a simple, homey, old-fashioned woman. Set in her ways and always answering the expectations of those around her, her life was a series of habits and a schedule set in stone. Mealtime was very important to her, the dishes she prepared only important as they fed the family who gathered around her table, sustenance more necessary than gustatory satisfaction. The food she prepared was simple, homey and old fashioned, hardy and good.
Wrapped in a colorful cotton housedress-style apron buttoned up from knee to neck over her clothing, sensible crepe-soled shoes on her feet, heavy cotton stockings peeping out from between ankle and knee, she spent the greatest part of her days in the kitchen chopping, stirring, cooking, baking. She would prepare delicious, heavy, perfectly orchestrated meals for us, her children and grandchildren, as she had done for all those decades of her life, for her parents, siblings and her husband and children and now us.
The heavy meal was served at noon, the blanquette, the ragout, the roasted meats, the courses of sauced, braised and simmered. Evening was souper, a light supper of leftovers and cold foods. But always, always, this nightly repast would begin with a bowl of carrot and leek soup. Every single night, consistently, unflinchingly, unfailingly carrot and leek soup. Carrots roughly peeled with a paring knife and cut crudely into thick coins, leeks washed, the greens lopped off and tossed away, the white sliced and added to the pot. Salt, pepper, lots of tap water and then simmered until the vegetables, the carrots and leeks were beyond fork tender, floating in a watery grave. Then out came the emulsion blender and the whole would be liquefied, reheated and served steaming in the same bowls used for coffee in the morning.
A watery, weak soup, more water than vegetable, more water than flavor, but my mother-in-law's carrot and leek soup quickly became a much-expected habit, a cozy enjoyment, a comforting end to the day, hot and relaxing. Float a plain, crispy biscuit, une biscotte, in it until it just begins to soften and, with the spoon, break off bits, scooping up a piece of biscuit in a puddle of soup and eat. Uncomplicated, homey, familiar, the expected end to a day that otherwise might have been filled with the unexpected, a soothing end to a day that might otherwise have been harried. Carrot and leek soup.
One day, he came to me and announced, "I am going to make you a real leek and potato soup!" And as he placed a soup plate in front of me a short time later, I realized that once again something so beautiful, something so flavorful, something seen from the outside as the height of elegant and sophisticated dining, emblematic of French cuisine, was inexpensive, nay, frugal and utterly simple and quick to make.
Cousin to the cock-a-leekie soup, and vichyssoise, less rustic than the one, less elegant and suave as the other, his real leek and potato soup is both bare bones and luxurious. Leeks, potatoes, onions and garlic, staples of every Frenchman and woman's kitchen garden, the inexpensive standbys of every French market, a bit of bacon or lardons and broth is what makes this soup. Chop, slice, simmer.
Isn't it funny that even the simplest of foods: a pot of steamed mussels, a roasted chicken, a pan-fried steak and a bowl of fries or an omelet is raised up to some dizzying height of sumptuousness as the magical veil of "French" is thrown over it. Even as it is inexpensive, nay, frugal and utterly simple and quick to make. Leek and potato soup.
Frittata is a true lifesaver when you don't know what to make for lunch or dinner! My favourite is spinach and potato frittata but this leek and bacon frittata is sneaking up as a close number two. I have periods when I use leeks a lot and then I forget about them so I was very happy to rediscover my old friend for this Plated Stories post; I have so many leeks lying around now and I just know what I will be cooking, this and the potato and leek soup Jamie writes about! You don't have to make them in muffin tins or cupcake cups, it works perfectly well the traditional way as well.
ILVA'S SMALL LEEK AND BACON FRITTATAS
6 small frittatas
4-5 tbs freshly grated parmesan cheese
freshly grated black pepper
100 g/ 3,5 oz bacon cut into small strips
1 small leek
Start cooking the bacon in a small non-stick pan without any fat, slice the leek and add it to the bacon. keep on cooking on medium heat until the leek is soft and the bacon is crisp.
With a fork whisk egg, parmesan cheese and pepper quickly and then add the leek and bacon, mix it well.
Spoon the frittata batter into cupcake cups or into a non-stick muffin tin and bake in a pre-heated oven (200°C/390°F). For 10-15 minutes. Ease the frittatas out of the forms and serve!