Meal planning around fresh produce in this transitional season admittedly is a bit tricky.
Grocery stores and farmers markets offer root vegetables that either overwintered or have weathered months in storage, along with some of the season’s first greens. Anything else has traveled from Mexico or much farther south.
That makes grocery shopping something of a scavenger hunt to ferret out flavors that taste of spring. From February through the end of this month, my eyes easily pick out big, beautiful bulbs of fennel and lengths of luscious leeks.
Huh? How do you plan a dish around those vegetables? Or so wondered participants in a grocery-store tour I hosted last week for ACCESS volunteers.
Simple. With mild — dare I say sweet — flavors and a temperament for long cooking, they can go in just about anything. In my kitchen, those dishes are soups, stews, pasta, quiche, risotto or simply roasted or braised and served alongside a main course.
Perhaps it’s my treatment of them, but fennel and, to an even greater degree, leeks are among the few vegetables that my kids don’t eat around at mealtimes. It takes minimal coaxing to ensure that this duo essentially melt into other ingredients.
Meltingly tender and almost succulent, my favorite braised fennel has been a topic of this blog since its inaugural year. And since spying this recipe from the Chicago Tribune, I no longer have an excuse for exempting leeks from the sear-and-simmer routine. I don’t hold much hope that my kids will relish these, but leftovers certainly could find their way in smaller bits to their plates.
Roasted and Braised Leeks
12 medium leeks
6 tablespoons melted butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups hot chicken broth (preferably homemade) plus up to 1 1/2 cups additional
Kosher salt, to taste
Trim away root frills from each of the leek. Trim away dark-green leaves, leaving white and pale-green portions. Starting at leaf ends, slice leeks in half, stopping 3 inches from root ends. Fan layers of leaf ends under cool, running water to rinse away dirt and grit.
Choose a roasting pan that will offer your leeks a snug fit in a single layer. A 9-by-13-by-2-inch pan should do. Swirl the butter and oil in pan. Settle in cleaned leeks.
Slide pan into a 500-degree oven and roast, for 15 minutes. Pull out pan. Use tongs to turn over each leek. Roast for 7 minutes. Pull out pan and turn leeks. Pour in 2 cups broth. Roast for 10 minutes. Turn leeks. Roast for 10 more minutes. If you started with leeks fatter than 1 inch in diameter, pour in another 1/2 cup broth and roast for 10 more minutes.
If you’re working ahead, let leeks cool. At serving time, pour in an additional 1 cup broth and heat at 500 F for 10 minutes. Either way, lift leeks out of their braising bath. Sprinkle with salt. Serve warm.
Makes 4 servings.
Recipe adapted by the Chicago Tribune from “Roasting: A Simple Art” by Barbara Kafka.