By George, I’ve sprung a leek! Excuse the unforgivable pun; at least it’s a tad bit more sophisticated than ‘taking a leek’. Eh? Eh? Whenever I speak to my parents about one of the lesser-known members of the onion family, it’s the first thing out of their mouths. Hence, proving my point that Americans are sadly unfamiliar with the said vegetable! However, it is one of the first things I noticed in French markets and menus: braised leeks, a light potato and leek potage, and the principle cure of obesity in Mireille Guiliano’s book French Women Don’t Get Fat. The secret to not plumping up in these conditions is a magical leek soup which allows the occasional taste of wine and cheese with the promise of looking as svelte as one of Godard’s gals. So I encourage you to take a liking to leeks, too!
When the tough, green leaves are cut off of the leeks, they can be subtle addition to soups, stews, and even salads. However, I learned the following recipe from an Italian transplant in Paris, which explains the parmesan cheese. However, you could replace the parmesan with emmental or swiss or simply omit it. Either way, the leek is the star here ! So enjoy as a light lunch with a green salad. And according to Mlle Guilano, because you are eating leeks, you are permitted to a little wine and cheese, too.
TARTE AUX POIREAUX Leek Tarte
Any kind of savory pie crust will work here, but homemade is always better. The egg yolk in the dough makes it both tender and cracker-like.
1 1/4 Cups Flour
4 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into ½’’ pieces
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg yolk, beaten
2-4 tablespoons ice water, more if needed
2 large leeks, green tops cut off, white portion cut into 1/4’’ rounds
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup creme fraiche or sour cream
¼ cup milk
¼ cup parmesan, emmental, or any flavorful cheese
1 tablespoon chopped chives
salt & pepper to taste
1.) Mix flour, salt, and chilled butter. Using a pastry cutter, two small knives, your hands, or a food processor, cut the butter into the flour until the butter resembles small, pea-sized pieces. Add the egg yolk. Add ice water one tablespoon at a time until a soft dough forms, being careful not to overmix.
2.) Turn the dough onto a floured surface and kneed several times until the dough is smooth.
3.) Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
4.) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
4.) In a saucepan over medium-low heat, sauté leeks in olive oil until soft and caramelized, about 7 minutes. Let cool slightly.
5.) In a bowl, mix the eggs, crème fraiche, eggs, salt and pepper.
6.) Roll out the pastry dough to 1/8’’ and spread carefully in a pie pan. Add the prepared leeks. Pour in the egg mixture. Sprinkle on the cheese, it will nice caramelize in the oven.
7.) Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the custard is set and the top. Enjoy!
One of the joys of living in the food-obsessed culture of France, is learning all the cheater’s secrets. For one, I’ve learned the French are guilty of takeout and the prepared foods isle of the supermarche. Have a handful of friends stopping by for an aperitif? Why not swing over to the local Picard (the sterile neighborhood frozen foods shop) for a handful of delicacies (shrimp toasts, savory cakes, molten chocolate cakes) to pull out of the oven when guests arrive? Or why not run to the local Italian traiteur to create a spread of beautiful cheeses, preserved tomatoes, and Italian charcuterie. Secondly, there are plenty of ready-made products in the grocery store. Who has time to cook, when quinoa, lentils, and rice are ready to be zapped onto the table? Another supermarket favorite of mine is the ready-made puff pastry and pie crusts which make quiches and tartes a cinch to whip up. The little girl I babysit for explained the simplest and easiest apple tarte she makes with her father. A thin layer of apple sauce is spread onto a prepared pie crust. Sliced apples are fanned on top to give it the touch of the boulanger. Voila. To my chagrin, it happened to be vegan and perfectly timed for a luncheon for some vegan friends from Brooklyn who were in town! Enjoy.
Fig season has arrived in France! The daintier, sweeter variety indigenous to France are at their peak although the larger imports from Greece and Turkey are not a bad snack either. I’ve been waiting months to test out a recipe in Jamie Oliver’s Happy Days with the Naked Chef for months now. ‘Tis the season! It’s a sensually simple salad of figs, buffalo mozzarella, and prosciutto di parma. I slit an x on the top of the figs and gently squeezed them to reveal their velvety flesh. Arrange on a platter with sliced buffalo mozzarella. Next, a few ribbons of jambon du parma were weaved organically between the figs. A nice handful of basil thrown on top, a drizzle of best quality extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt and pepper. And there you have a sensationally seasonal first course.