Food & Drink

Plugging Leeks

Onions’ sweeter, more delicate cousins are culinary utility players

photo: John Burgoyne

Ask Tom Colicchio to name his favorite vegetable and, without pause, he’ll answer that it’s the mushroom. “But if you push me on it, I’d actually say leeks,” says the Top Chef judge, who has been visiting the Charleston, South Carolina, area for fifteen years and opened his first restaurant in the Southeast—Beachcraft in Miami Beach—in 2015. “I don’t think you can open my refrigerator and not find leeks. In terms of versatility, it’s like no other vegetable. It can be a background aromatic or you can cut it in half and roast it, and it’s totally different. ” With flavor that’s been described as oniony without the sulfur, leeks can also be braised or sautéed. Or, of course, blended with potatoes into a creamy soup. Kin to onions, shallots, and garlic, leeks came to the United States from Europe with some of the first settlers. Now’s the time to track them down at farmers’ markets—leek season begins in the fall and continues until May. At home, loosely wrap them in plastic to retain some moisture, and store them in the refrigerator—unwashed and untrimmed—for up to two weeks. To remove the grit that gets trapped between layers as the plant grows, skip soaking and trim the dark green leaves, then peel off the outer few layers of the white and pale green section. Slice in half lengthwise, run under cool water to clean, and then trim off the root end. Keep leeks on hand to sub in anytime you’d use an onion. As Colicchio sees it, their taste is a perfect match for the warming weather. “That inner core,” he says, “is like spring itself.”

The Chef Recommends:

Baked Eggs with Braised Leeks

“The recipe is a starting-off point. Add different ingredients—from bacon to truffles—and play with it.”

John Burgoyne

Simmer 2 garlic cloves in 2 cups heavy cream for 5 minutes. Set aside to steep for 15 minutes. In a skillet, sauté 1 bunch julienned leeks in 2 tbsp. olive oil over medium- low until soft, about 8 minutes. Add 2 oz. water and ½ cup chopped mushrooms. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to baking dish. Strain cream and pour over leeks. Crack 2 eggs on top. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until eggs reach desired doneness.