Leeks Vinaigrette

Our Winter Bounty

Suddenly, it no longer feels like fall.  The days still have that beautiful early evening light and the trees have not lost all their leaves, but this rain has decidedly changed the seasons.  As we hunker down for our California winter, we enjoy all the bounty that our gardens allow us to grow through our wet and mild winter months. While many other parts of the country shut down their food production almost entirely, we still enjoy the benefits of our warm coastal climate.

This time of year, our cooking habits change too– foods become heartier and heavier.  In the last few weeks, I’ve found myself making thick coconut lentil soup, rich with so many spices and warm flavors.  I’ve been baking more, and making stock, and braising my greens rather than eating them fresh.  There is something so nice about seasons, and while ours may not be so drastic here in California, food reminds us that there is a time and a place for things. We have to wait until June for the first of the stone fruits, and strawberries are finally starting to wind down.  But we get to enjoy so many other things that grow well out here this time of year and farmer’s markets are still places of delicious diversity.  The persimmons have been as sweet as I can remember, winter squashes are just waiting to be hacked open and scooped out, kale is crisp and sweet with the cold weather, and oranges are here to keep us going through winter.

Many people come to our garden and ask us what they can grow in our unique climate. While some crops are more challenging, there are many that flourish in our mild weather and sandy soil. Leeks are one such crop that is easily grown in San Francisco backyards. And their mild flavor and bright green color are welcomed into our kitchens this time of year. I love this recipe for leeks vinaigrette – it is the perfect winter salad option when lettuce is less available. It is lighter than many of the other recipes available to us this time of year and I often find people are stunned by how simple this classic combination is, and yet how shockingly delicious!

This recipe is from a great, classic cookbook I would recommend to new and seasoned cooks alike. Alice Waters manages to show you how the most simple combinations can be the most delicious. Enjoy!

Leeks Vinaigrette
From The Art of Simple Food, by Alice Waters

12 small or 6 larger leeks
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt to taste
Fresh-ground black pepper
¼ cup olive oil
Chopped fresh herbs (optional) – parsley and tarragon are delicious!

Trim the tough, dark green ends off the leeks, and remove a few of the outer layers. Cut off the root end and clean the insides of the leeks as best you can without cutting them in half. Leeks manage to hold lots of sandy soil in them!

Cook for 7 to 12 minutes, or until tender, in abundant salted boiling water. Use a sharp knife to pierce the thickest part of the root end- if the leek is tender it will offer no resistance. When the leeks are done, carefully lift them out and drain them. Let cool.

To make the vinaigrette, whisk the vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper together in a small bowl.  Slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream. Once combined, and the dressing should be a little thick, taste for seasonings and adjust as necessary.

When the leeks are cool enough to handle, gently squeeze out any excess liquid.  Unless your leeks are very small, cut in half or even in quarters and toss with a pinch of salt. When ready to serve, lay leeks out on a plate and spoon the vinaigrette over the top, gently turning the leeks to coat.  Sprinkle with herbs or other additions and serve.  Alice recommends adding a chopped hard-boiled egg to the top.  I agree!

Want to learn how to grow your own leeks? Check out our Grow Your Own Food class, taught every month at the GFE!