Leeks are like onion and garlic’s shy sibling. All three are in the allium family, but the latter two produce stronger, more assertive flavors while leeks combine the toned-down essence of each. Despite their gentle character, leeks are both larger and dirtier than their familial counterparts.
When it comes to choosing leeks though, larger isn’t better. Look for inch-thick bulbs with long white to pale green shafts—those are the tender edible parts. As leeks grow, soil is piled around them to preserve those lighter parts at the base. This process results in sand and dirt lodged deep inside. Leeks need thorough cleaning; the first step of the savory leek and mushroom risotto below walks you through that process.
Illinois leek season starts in May. Start patrolling your farmer’s markets for fresh locally grown vegetables and pay special attention to any signs for “ramps,” also known as “wild leeks.” They are more delicate yet stronger in flavor and both their bulbs and leaves can be eaten. They only last a month or so before wilting and disappearing from markets. They’re the leek equivalent of a Chicago spring—you barely realize the season has started before it ends.
Leek and Mushroom Risotto
- 2 medium-sized leeks
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter (plus more as needed)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 pound (8 oz) mushrooms, stems trimmed and cut into 1/4 inch pieces
- 1/2 onion, chopped fine
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 6 cups chicken broth, warm
- 1 cup Parmesan, finely grated
- salt and pepper to taste
1. Prepare leeks: slice off the leek’s dark green end, trimming to the part where the color is a pale green. Cut off the root end of the white bulb and slice stalk in half lengthwise; slice leeks into rings, agitate in a bowl of cold water, then strain (may have to do more than once). Lay on paper towel to drain.
2. Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a heavy pot. Add the garlic and leeks, then cook for 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until brown, about 3-5 minutes.
3. Remove the vegetables from the pot and set aside, reserving as much of the melted butter in the pot as possible. If necessary, melt more butter for cooking onion. Add the onion to the pot and cook until translucent, 5-7 minutes.
4. Add the rice, stirring occasionally, and lightly toast it for 5 minutes.
5. Stir in the wine and cook for an additional minute.
6. Stir in 1 cup of broth and cook until it absorbs, stirring constantly. Continue to add broth 1/2 cup at a time, allowing the broth to be absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup. Cook until rice is al dente, about 30 minutes.
7. Stir in the mushrooms, leeks, and Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Adapted from Laughing Kitchen’s recipe.
Other ways to prepare leeks:
- Sauté chopped leeks and fennel. Garnish with fresh lemon juice and thyme.
- Add finely chopped leeks to salads.
- Add leeks to broth and stews for extra flavoring.
- Steam sliced leeks for up to 8 minutes then dress with vinaigrette
- Add sliced leeks to omelet or frittata recipe.
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