Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Spring leeks

'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.

Tomato sauce:
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.

The rest:
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.

Even better the next day. No matter what the weather holds.


Anh said...

Well-written as always. How much I enjoy reading your writing!

And cheers to leeks! I have enjoyed them a lot since spring starts. Your recipe sounds wonderful. As Mel weather changes, the cream based version is for rainy days. And the lighter one is for brighter and warmer days! :)

Truffle said...

Oh this sounds just heavenly. Oddly enough I was just posting about Melbourne spring days. It's so lovely seeing how they inspire you. I can't wait to try this and luckily have plenty of leeks on hand!

Anonymous said...

Lucy, this sounds very interesting and looks delicious. I'll have to try it :)

Susan said...

Too many goodies, Lucy. Where to begin? A savory savior of a crumble when you don't feel like rolling a crust; another curve of beaten-up metal; and cerulean, that mesmerizing color that defies definition.

winedeb said...

Katie, to me Spring is the teasing season. One day it is warm and sunny and you think, this is it! Next day, like you said, back on with the warm clothes! But oh those Spring veggies cannot be beat. I remember being in Ohio this Spring at the farmers market and loading up on that wonderful fragrent garlic! I immediately was spoiled with fresh garlic. Now I deal with the dry, half of the time sprouting, garlic that I have to get at the grocery store. I guess I will just have to anticipate Spring again here in the States.
Your leek dish sounds marvelous and the addition of tahini is very interesting. I am trying to imagine the flavor it will impart to the dish. A must try for me!

Wendy said...

A "savoury crumble"? Don't think I've ever considered such a thing... Though my cauliflower cheese has a crispy topping...

Anyhoo, this sounds absolutely divine. I have plenty of leeks in the garden (the only veg left) so will definitely be trying this out.

Love "Leith's Vegetarian Bible". One of my all time favourites.

*fanny* said...

this is one gorgeous crumble
can't wait to try it

Callipygia said...

You know you have a winner when your veggies are as good as dessert! A savory crumble- genius.

Cindy said...

I think of this weather as uniquely Melbourne. As a migrant from Queensland, the cool overcast days, whipped-up winds that don't bring afternoon storms, dry air and dust are still a surprise. But I love, love, love daylight saving.

Your crumble looks lovely! I have a creamy leek dish of my own to appear in a few days.

Lucy said...

Aw shucks Anh. You do say the nicest things. The leeks are so delicious at this time of the year - sweet and green. Two of my favourite things!

Spring in Melbourne is so different to Sydney, isn't it Truffle? Loved your salad by the way.

It's well worth the (little) effort involved Maryann!

Susan, not sure if I should mention this, but that jug? It was, um, pilfered from a first class upgrade by a friend. It's a lovely, silvery thing...goodies ahoy. I love spring.

How funny Deb, that you should mention the dried up garlic of autumn - I feel so very lucky to have these fresh, pretty young things to work with.

Cauliflower cheese...mmm...Wendy, that book is an endless source of unique recipes for me. Glad you know of it!

Thanks Fanny! May you enjoy it.

Callipygia - who'd have thought it would work? Very pleasing result.

Those winds really knocked me around for the first few years of being down here Cindy. I always felt as though daylight savings just prolonged the heat, but the older I get, the more I love it too. Look forward to your leek-age.

Christina said...

Leith's Vegetarian Bible is new to me--I'm not well-versed in vegetarian books, but I'm always looking for new ways to get ECG to eat his vegetables, so this might be the right book to check out next.

Crunchy, gooey, creamy, and tomatoey--I don't think anyone could go wrong with this recipe that you've given us. Thanks for the great offering.

Lucy said...

Christina, it's even made Oscar, younger of the two step sons, a lover of kohlrabi...and if he'll eat it, ANY one will eat the stuff. Good luck with ECG!

It's great little meal for your weather too this one.

VegeYum said...

Oh you are a such a poetic writer. I so enjoy reading your posts. Love leeks. The drought is still so worrying. We also had rain last week, but this week is so sunny again (beautifully so, but we feel so guilty to enjoy it).

Cynthia said...

I too do so enjoy your writing. What a great idea - leek and tomato crumble.

Rosa said...

Lovely post, Lucy! Bechamel has its place, I suppose, but I usually prefer to find an alternative. Thanks for providing the two versions of this recipe.

Lucy said...

Oh, Vegeyum, it's so awful the so-called drought, isn't it? The bloke at the market farms his own plot organically and he is so visibly affected by it all. That said, the sun is so welcome - I've noticed you've been getting lots over in Adelaide too. A small, but guilty pleasure!

I know Cynthia, who'd have thought a crumble like this would work? It's so simple. Thanks love, as always, for your kind words.

It's just too heavy for me nowadays Rosa - glad you agree. Even lasagnes require something other than that floury, milky sauce. Glad you're back - hopefully with a cache of goodies!

Julie's journey said...

Your weather sounds like Sydney's weather last weekend but now it is just raining virtually non stop. (Mustn't complain). I love the way you write about food - as always it makes me want to start cooking.

Rachael said...

Oh my goodness. I get such a thrill when I come across a blog I havent seen before...and this is just beyond lovely. I am so excited. Brilliant!

Lucy said...

Julie, I do miss the rain in Sydney. I used to love watching the rain come over in the afternoons in summer on hot days, just enough to silence the cicadas for an hour or so!

Hi Rachel and welcome. Thank you for your very kind words! I'll just pop on over and find out a little bit about you too...I too love stumbling across new words and pictures!

sra said...

Lucy, you have a well-written blog. This is an interesting recipe, and I love the spoon in the previous post. Thanks for visiting my blog (a while ago).

Lucy said...

Hi Sra, and thank you!

Nora B. said...

Hi Lucy. Terrific post and I love the recipe. Savoury crumble - such a wonderful idea!