'No onions’ he told me, ‘Drought. Still.’
Obviously, a man of few words. That’s two months now. Instead, there are plenty of tightly coiled, crisp green leeks and a large pile of purple garlic, small bulbs of which are astronomically priced, but no less tempting for it. Despite that statement, there are some onions this week - fresh ones, pink-skinned with their green tops standing to attention. Sweet and wonderful, these are quite unlike the more familiar papery-skinned kitchen basic they will become later in the year. Alliums a-plenty to keep me happy. ‘I can wait’, I told him, ‘I’m in no hurry’, and trundled off with a small bag of that expensive, highly perfumed garlic, a bunch of young onions and an armload of perky leeks.
Spring in Melbourne is changeable. Rain soaks the garden one day (and boy, did it drink deeply this last weekend) and the next finds you waking to bright cerulean skies, the sun beckoning you to shed layers and drink in the light. Just when you think you’re ready for salad weather to descend, the wind sweeps through the yard, knocks over your lemon balm and, damn it, it’s cold enough to warrant scarves. Again.
Patience is a virtue. Salad days are coming.
Any recipe that suggests you, ‘serve with a green salad’ is greeted in this kitchen with an audible sigh of relief. Any side dish whose sole instruction involves me, almost unthinkingly, tearing up a lettuce or two, adding a few leaves of whatever herbs look healthy in the garden and tossing them, at the last possible moment, in a mustardy-garlicky dressing is a very fine thing. Elaborate side dishes are tedious and frankly undo-able mid-week.
Transitional weather requires a transitional recipe. A savoury crumble, one that uses at least some of those leeks. Softly cooked, they lie beneath a layer of fresh, chunky tomato sauce and a crispy, herby, sesame seed-crusted topping. The tomatoes cook down while you sweat the leeks; you rub the crumble ingredients through your fingertips with a lazy eye on both pans, assemble, then chuck it in the oven for 30 minutes. Only when your partner pops his head over your shoulder and says, ‘It’s a bit like a tart, but in reverse’ do you think, ah, yes, it will be good. It is.
Needless to say, all you need to do is serve, predictably, with a green salad.
Leek and tomato crumble – for 4
Based on a recipe in Leith’s Vegetarian Bible. A recent post by Callipygia revised my thinking after this was photographed. I offer both ways here – one is béchamel-based (that’s what you see) and the other is milk-free and uses more leeks. It’s just as good, if not better.
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
10 ripe, juicy tomatoes, preferably roma (plum)
Salt and pepper
Warm the oil in a saucepan over a low-medium heat. Add the onions, pop the lid on and sweat, lifting the lid to stir occasionally, for 5 minutes. Roughly chop the tomatoes and add to the pan, along with a little salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then cook at a steady pace, stirring often, until tomatoes have broken down and the sauce thickened some, about 20 minutes.
Leeks, version 1:
1 tablespoon of olive oil
3 leeks, trimmed, well washed and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of flour
1 cup of rice, almond or cows milk
1 tablespoon of tahini
Sea salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the leeks, turn the heat to low and cover. Sweat, lifting the lid to stir occasionally, for 5-8 minutes or until the leeks are soft. Add the butter to the leeks and when it melts stir in the flour, stirring constantly, scraping the base of the pan as you go, for a minute or so.
Take the saucepan off the heat, pour in the milk and mix well. Return to the heat and, stirring constantly, bring to the boil. Simmer for 2 minutes. Stir in the tahini, season to taste and set aside
Leeks, version 2:
2 tablespoons of olive oil/butter or a mixture of both
5-6 leeks, trimmed, well washed and thinly sliced
1-2 tablespoons of tahini
Sea salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the leeks, turn the heat to low and cover. Sweat, lifting the lid to stir occasionally, for 5-8 minutes or until the leeks are soft. Remove from the heat, stir in the tahini, season to taste and set aside.
1 scant cup of flour (wholemeal [whole-wheat] works well)
½ cup of rolled oats
2 tablespoons of fresh herbs, finely chopped
85g of cold butter, cubed
1 tablespoon of sesame seeds
Preheat the oven to 200 C (400 F).
Mix the flour, oats and herbs together in a roomy bowl. Rub in the cubed butter with your fingertips until it resembles chunky breadcrumbs.
Spread the leeks in an ovenproof dish with the back of a spoon. Pour the tomato sauce on top, spreading it out to the edges, then top evenly with the crumble mixture. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes or until golden.