Wednesday, May 11, 2011

leek toasts with blue cheese

leek toasts with blue cheese

I get in a lot of cooking ruts. Except, “ruts” sounds like the bad kind of monotony, but I’m not sure that it is. There have been pasta phases, in which I was certain that any vegetable, chopped, lightly cooked plus parmesan plus penne made a perfect dinner. I was on a homemade pizza bender for a year or maybe five. There was a galette fixation, that still rears its head once or twice a year. And currently, I’m struggling to find a single food that doesn’t taste better when it lands on toasts.

leeks
trimmed, halved leeks

Hear me out: Even the most poorly stocked kitchens — self, I’m looking at you and your shop-for-one-dish-at-a-time ethos — probably have bread, somewhere. (Mine is in the freezer. I buy good stuff, and then don’t feel rushed to use it up.) And whether you’ve got diced prosciutto or an excess of greens around, cooking them together and dolloping them on toasts somehow makes them more elegant, more open-faced sandwich-ish, more light dinner-ish. Now that the weather is finally (finally!) warmer and the farm stands are green again, quick meals are welcome.

sliced leeks

light sourdough

Now, I know that leeks are planted in the fall and thus probably don’t count as a spring vegetable. But around here, farms often pull them in the spring* and the spring variety has an incredible depth of flavor*. They’re also caked with more dirt than ever, having all of those extra months to roll in it, but I find that the same cleaning technique I use for less gritty leeks (and all greens), that is, plunging them gently in cold water and letting the sand and dirt fall to the bottom, works just as well. The only thing that leaves is bread (use whatever you have and don’t fuss over it as the leeks will steal the show), the cooking of the leeks (gently but lazily in butter and olive oil) and a little something-something on top. I used blue cheese when I made these, but goat cheese, either a feta sprinkled on top or a soft one spread underneath, would be wonderful. Finally, they reheat well so if you’ve made, say, a tray of toasts but decided that you first must run around outside (pressing your face against every single storefront glass, picking gum off the sidewalk while your mama grimaces, etc.) for a while before dinner, they’ll wait for you. Spring, it’s so nice to have you back.

briefly broiled

* Hat tip to Melissa Clark for unmuddling my confusion as to why post-season leeks are so freakin’ good.

One year ago: Pecan Cornmeal Butter Cake and Mushroom Crepe Cake
Two years ago: Endive and Celery Seed Salad with Fennel Seed Vinaigrette and Rhubarb Cobbler
Three years ago: Martha’s Macaroni-and-Cheese and Crisp Salted Oatmeal White Chocolate Cookies
Four years ago: Pickled Garlicky Red Peppers and Raspberry-Topped Lemon Muffins

Leek Toasts with Blue Cheese

I was all set to slow-caramelize the leeks as I would onions when I came upon Molly Wizenberg’s recipe for Leek Confit in Bon Appetit and decided it sounded much more straightforward. I’ve tweaked it a bit — less butter, some swapped for oil, as I didn’t need the full richness of a confit, I leave the leeks wet rather than adding water, etc. — but the basic cooking technique is the same, and it’s a cinch. This would also make a wonderful filling for a crepe or omelet, or with a poached egg on top. But I bet you didn’t need me to tell you that!

With a big salad, makes a light meal for 2 or appetizers for several; this easily doubles if you doubt that it would keep you sated

1 1/2 pounds leeks (about 3 big leeks), lengthwise and white and pale green parts sliced 1/4-inch thick (about 3 generous cups of slices)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for brushing toasts
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 medium-sized or 12 baguette-sized 1/2-inch slices of bread of your choice (I used a light sourdough)
2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled (a soft or crumbly goat cheese would also work)
Few drops of lemon juice (optional)

Fill a large bowl with cold water. Add leeks and use your hands to pump them up and down in the water a bit, separating the rings and letting the dirt and grit fall to the bottom. Transfer to a dish or plate for a minute; no need to dry them.

Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy skillet over medium. Once hot, add butter and olive oil and once they’re fully melted and a bit sizzly, add the leek slices, still wet. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Reduce heat to low, cover with a lid and cook leeks for 25 minutes, stirring them occasionally. Adjust seasoning to taste.

While leeks cook, brush bread slices with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt. Run under broiler until lightly toasted. You may either spread the cheese you’re using on now, while the toasts are hot, or sprinkle it on at the end. Divide leeks among toasts. Sprinkle with cheese, if you haven’t spread it underneath. Add a few drops of lemon juice, if desired. Eat at once or gently rewarm a bit later.


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