Category Archives: leeks

Bye-Bye Summer: Squash Blossom Tart with Leeks and Cheddar

When does the summer end? For those of us living in a cold climate it is definitely not August 31st or September 1st, not even the Labor Day (first Monday of September). The fall in Eastern Canada begins around autumnal equinox time (22nd of September) with sudden gusty winds and rains bending and rocking the trees, blow-drying leaves into their new colors and flocking the birds to swarm into the their long journey down South. Although it’s still possible to make some BBQ, the goose-bumping temperatures usually lock us in to experiment with pies and breads. This tart was a pure impromptu caused by our unexpected garden find – squash flowers. 

I went to collect leftover fine herbs and discovered the bunch of newly spread squash twines carpeting most of the garden with dozens of yellow blossoms that topped the tiny swelling orbs of squash here and there. We already had a first frost the night before, so I rushed to salvage these little heartthrobs into this beautiful savory tart. Leeks and fine cheddar cheese were already in my fridge waiting to blow some lacto-ovo-vegetarian minds and the squash flowers have sparked the tart idea.
Really, what a delight it turned out to be! We couldn’t have enough of it! It has everything in it to say good-bye to the summer and to welcome the colder times in the most appreciative fashion, like: ’Hey, there’s still summer freshness, but you can now also enjoy the fall bounty, both wrapped in winter crust of cheese and flaky dough.’
I understand squash flowers might be kind of exotic at this time of the year, but thinly sliced zucchini, peeled squash, pumpkin or sweet-potato would make some good alternatives.  Naturally, the blossoms give this tart that special freshness raw tang zucchini flowers lovers know so well.
This pie is also featuring Perron Cheddar cheese (generic aged Cheddar or Gruyere are also fine for this tart). 
Earlier this month, I visited Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean area, famous for its Boreal-rich agriculture and products, and brought some local specialties with me including Chocolate Coated Blueberries made by monks and few slabs of Perron cheddar cheese, known for its taste and reputation. FYI, Perron is the oldest cheese factory in Quebec, and is the only private company exporting its cheese to England for more than a century. 
They also produce the best fresh curd squeaky cheese I’ve ever tried in my life, so if you are in that area and wish to try a fool-proof best poutine  in the world (I’m not lying), don’t miss the opportunity and stop by a little bistro Chez Perron in the Saint-Prime town. Poutine buffet is its specialty with mountains of their own squeaky cheese on top of fries and variety of exotic gravies. I suggest you pass, however, on the other specialty, fondue, as it has so much pepper it kills the taste of their famous cheese…
And so, equipped with new travel memories, experiences and the stash of nice cheese and leeks, I was back home discovering the squash blossoms… When it came to the crust, I couldn’t decide: flaky pie or puff pastry? So I tried with both and both worked out very well. Flaky pie crust turns it into a quiche category, while the puff pastry sets the tart into appetizer and side dish. Steps took less than then 15 minutes in prep. First, par-baking the crust, sauteing leeks and scallions:
Then making egg-cheese mix.
Pouring the mix over the crust layered with leeks and topped with squash flowers:
In the end, I liked the pie-crusted tart still warm with handful of roasted hazelnuts scattered over and a little arugula salad on a side. As for the puff pastry crust, it was excellent next day at the room temperature to accompany a plate of hot boiled dinner.  
I used the Tenderflake store-bought dough for, both, to save time (I’m supremely confident in their dough: it has been tasted by me for years), but feel free to use this pie dough recipe  for the flaky shell and replace flour by gluten-free if wish be. Enjoy!
1 pie or puff pastry crust enough to fit into 9-inch tart round, or 5×10-inch rectangular pan
1 tbsp olive oil
1 leek, thinly sliced (white part only)
2-3 scallion, minced
6-8 squash or zucchini flowers, cut in half if with baby squash part attached, OR 2 thinly sliced zucchini
½ tsp fresh or dried thyme
3 eggs
½ cup 10% cream
1 cup grated savory cheese (Old Cheddar, Gruyere, etc.)
½ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp freshly pepper
¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 375F. Form the crust into the pan. Bake it for 15 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Heat the frying pan to medium-high, add olive oil and saute the leeks with scallions for about 5 minutes until wilted. Spread leek and scallions into the bottom of the pie shell.
Place squash or zucchini flowers over the leeks. Sprinkle with thyme.
Beat the eggs in a small bowl. Add cream, cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix well. Carefully pour the egg mixture into the tart.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the egg is set and the cheese is golden brown and bubbling. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.  Serve for breakfast, lunch, brunch or dinner as a main or side course.  

Cream of Leeks, Potatoes & Foraged Greens

Easy, fast and to the point, this soup is a take on the classic cream of leeks and potatoes. Sorrel adds a touch of tartness; nettle brings a touch of delicate tanginess and both make an extra nutritious boost to the meal. Creamy and hearty (without a cream), this light starter is an excellent spring tonic. And if you have no foraged greens, no biggie: use spinach or parsley or both instead for equally delicious and nutritious result. The cream of leeks, potatoes and foraged greens goes very well with more flavor-complex crunchy quesadillas, like the ones with a smoked salmon, or goat cheese, olive oil dried tomatoes, both of which add remarkable rich-salty-savory and texture contrast to the soup.  This soup also pairs fantastically with crisp salted cod croquettes such as these wonderful accras de morue bites. OR, bacon, for that matter…

For the first time my monumental yearly battle with weeds in our backyard is turning into something beautiful. Learning to enjoy some of the wild nature’s gifts, I’m totally in Redzepi’s state of mind wandering in the garden of weeds and collecting dandelions, violets, burdock, clover, and other lush green edibles.  Up until recently, the foraging knowledge and skills have all but disappeared from our lives, but now that the foraging trend got back on a horse, it helps to reinstate the nutritional and medicinal importance of the wild plants in our daily regimen. I’m happy about it and so I’m picking the nettles and sorrel like its nobody’s business for my soup of the day.

IMPORTANT: Always wear gloves (to not be stung) and use cutter (not to spoil the tender leaves) when foraging stinging nettle and select the youngest species that have no flowers yet.

Although sorrel has been used in European cuisine for centuries and has been admired by many, from Monet to Julia Child, it is somewhat of an acquired taste because of its lemon sourness, so if you are the beginner, you might wish to start with a smaller sorrel batch in the soup not to overpower the nice and creamy leek-potato background taste. The same with the nettle: although it incorporates very well into an array of soups, its hardening taste is quite particular, so, again, begin with a moderate amount and let the leeks shine through.

Garnish the soup with a little quail egg (eggs work very well with sorrel sourness) and/or chopped chives, parsley or other greens of your choice. Optionally, you can add a dollop of sour cream or cream, or lace your soup with some olive oil. Serve with above suggested quesadillas (see the smoked fish post), home-made crackers, toasted baguette, and/or maybe some crispy bacon on a side or freshly crumbled (my favorite). Enjoy!

What is next on my foraging agenda?  How about dandelion wine? I recently tasted it at the party and got very curious about it. There are so many recipes on the Internet, but my principal question is: is it regular active dry yeast like in Chef Ricardo’s recipe or special wine yeast like in many othersthat we should use?  If any of you, dear readers have some successful experience with dandelion wine making, please let me know. 

That’s about it for my most recent foraging practice and interests. I hope you will find some of use. Cheers!

3 tbsp unsalted butter
2-3 cups or 3 medium-sized leeks (white and light green parts only), washed and sliced
3 cups potatoes (baking kind), peeled and cubed
½ cup or 1 celery stalk, chopped (optional)
8 cups chicken, or vegetable broth, or water
1 bouquet garni (1 thyme spring, 1 bay leaf and few parsley springs tied with kitchen spring) (optional)
1 cup (2 big handfuls) fresh sorrel leaves, stems and tough ribs removed
1 cup (8 oz) fresh nettles or spinach
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup chives or parsley for garnish, minced
½ cup crème fraiche or plain Greek yogurt for garnish
Melt the butter in a large pot, add leeks and cook over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes. Add potatoes, celery and chicken stock (or water), bouquet garni, bring to boil and simmer for 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add sorrel, nettles or spinach leaves and cook just until wilted for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Puree the soup in batches in blender. Reheat if necessary or serve cool garnished with chives or minced parsley and a dollop of crème fraiche or plain yogurt.   

Savory Mushroom Leek Parmesan Bread Pudding

The weather has been nasty in Montreal for the last few days which predisposed us to mostly stay home and do tons of baking (hoping that the ice rain will not bring electricity cut so often challenging us in this area).  Our family’s patriarch was successfully experimenting with kamut and millet bread to the Christmas jazz tunes. While I came up with an idea to make this bread pudding as a prequel to my Christmas post menu (which goes next).

This recipe was conceived last summer when I was staring at the mountain of the leftovers of commercial multi-grain gluten-free bread (which no one in our house eats except me) thinking how can I possibly re-use it.  I cut the stale bread in small cubes preparing first to use them instead of the crumbs in some fancy deep-fried recipes. Then I realized what a caloric bomb it would be if used that way (putting an extra load to our already weakened livers).
So pudding came next to my mind – I like no frills recipes where I can also recycle the leftovers.  Porcini, leek and Parmesan (I used old cheddar initially) factored in and Ta-dah! – few hours later I was trying the creation surprised with how little savory it tasted against my expectations.  I put other puddings in the fridge and re-heated one of them next day to have with a stew and, oh boy, it tasted so different! All the flavors I expected in a first place were set and present and waiting to be discovered upon a quick broiling to make the top crusty. Excellent main (with some good sauce or gravy) or side dish for stews and roasts.

Tonight I am repeating this exercise as I think it will work marvellously with the mystery bird I planned to cook for the Christmas dinner and act as a new age holiday stuffing. Buckle up with me if you like bread puddings.

Savory Mushroom Leek Parmesan Bread Pudding
Yields: 8 portions
3-4 tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for brushing
3 green onions (scallions), minced
30+ gr dried porcini, reconstituted and minced, or, ½ lbs (225 g) fresh shiitake or button mushrooms (or fresh mushrooms of your choice), minced
2 leeks, white and tender green thinly sliced
Splash of white wine, or apple cider vinegar mixed with water (50/50)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp fresh thyme
4 cups multi-grain (gluten free), or whole wheat stale bread, diced or in crumbs
4+ cups chicken stock, or milk, or mix of milk and cream
¾ cup Parmesan or other dense cheese of your taste, shredded
1 large egg, plus 2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
 Salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Butter eight ¾ cup ramekins and set them in a roasting pan.
Melt the rest of the butter in a skillet, add scallions and mushrooms and cook stirring on the high heat for about 2 minutes. Add leeks, garlic, thyme and a splash of wine and continue stirring for another 5 minutes lowering the heat to moderate.  
In a large bowl, stir together the leek mushroom mixture, bread crumbs, stock, cheese, salt and pepper to taste until fully combined. Beat the eggs in a small bowl. In a saucepan, bring the stock (or milk and cream) till hot, but not boiling, remove from heat and gradually start whisking the eggs into the liquid. Stir the custard into the bread mix and let stand, stirring occasionally, until absorbed, for about 15 minutes. 
Divide mixture into the prepared ramekins, place in the roasting pan, add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins and cover loosely with the foil (all at once). Bake for 25-30 minutes. Then carefully remove the foil and broil for 3-5 minutes until golden brown. Let cool for 15 minutes, then turn the bread puddings out onto an ovenproof platter. Sprinkle (optionally) with Parmesan and broil for about 30 seconds or until golden. Equally, you can make the pudding ahead and perform the same after up to 48 hours of refrigeration. Serve hot.


Shrimp & Fish Soup à la Provençal

Another soup with shrimp bursting with flavours and textures:  a mix of elements from Southern bouillabaisse and Northern chowder … How’s that for eclectic?

It might look like an elaborate dish but the process of preparation is simple and straightforward and  you can have a great dinner ready in a flash. I love the background Provencal taste and versatility of this soup: you can replace the ingredients almost as you please. Make it vegetarian by swapping fish & shrimp for green beans, pasta and pistou; stock for vegetarian and, voilà, a take on Ina Garten’s Provencal Vegetable Soup. Or, if you have a variety of small fresh fish and some mussels – skip the potatoes and carrots and bring the assorted fish and seafood in, add some zesty roux and you gotcha – home-made bouillabaisse…

Although this soup is featuring fish and crustaceans prominently, the real star of it is a small fennel bulb and/or crushed fennel seeds. Yep, that is the ingredient that delivers a unique taste of Provence in combination with saffron, garlic, tomatoes, wine and stock. Not to mention how famously well it goes with fish, potatoes and olives.  Anise is another name used for fennel, the smell and flavor of which many find difficult to warm to, but if you are already a fan of bouillabaissethis should not be an issue.  I noticed long time ago that sometimes those who like fennel don’t like dill and vice versa (kind of Southern vs Northern taste), but hopefully the combination of both in this dish will bring more converts from both sides.
This soup is seriously packed with good-for-you stuff, but first a few more words about fennel. In addition to the dramatic list of its health benefits of this herb, it is considered to be one of the 9 sacred herbs of Anglo-Saxons. And here are some few curious historical facts about this mysterious plant (you might or might not know about):
– In Ancient Greece, the word marathon meant ‘’place of fennel’. The battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. which happened in a plain with fennel was named after it. Consequently, the name of long-distance endurance race, the ‘’marathon’’, comes from the legend of those times when a Greek runner who was sent from the town of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated. He ran the whole distance non-stop, and collapsed from exhaustion upon reaching the destination and proclaiming ‘’We have won!’’

–  According to the Greek myth, the fire was stolen from the gods by Prometheus, who hid it in a hollow fennel stalk (and paid a big price for that as we know).
– The ancient Romans believed that chewing fennel controls the obesity.
– In Medieval times fennel was put in the keyholes to keep out ghosts and spirits, particularly on Midsummer’s Eve when evil spirits were thought to roam freely as the sun turned southwards.
Fennel has been used with preparing fish since long time ago. Nicholas Culpepper, English botanist and physician of the mid 1600s wrote that fennel ‘’consumes that phlegmatic humour, which fish most plentifully afford and annoy the body with, though few that use it know wherefore they do it; I suppose the reason for its benefit this way is because it is an herb of Mercury and under Virgo, and therefore bears antipathy to Pisces.’’
The Ancient Romans, Chinese and Hindus used fennel as an antidote to poisons. According to Culpepper, fennel was an effective antidote for poisonous mushrooms and snake bites and was used as a treatment for the bites of rabid dogs.
Back to our soup. Here are some useful tips on this wonderful and hearty concoction.
Selecting fish & shrimp: I used salmon fillets and peeled Nordic shrimp this time and it worked very well. Most of the time, however, I find salmon a bit boring and use white, firm cold water fish, such as, grouper, haddock or cod.  As for the shrimp, please feel free to use the crustacean of your choice.
Giving your soup a heft: I am not a big fan of flour or starch thickening, so when I wish to make my soup heavier, I just add a few tablespoons of corn meal (which is neutral and gluten free) 10 minutes before the end of cooking.
Step No. 1: boiling potatoes and carrots separately will help them to cook faster than when they are in the acidic environment. Step No. 2: when sautéing veggies, let them sit in the frying pan a little bit before stirring to allow a bit of caramelizing, don’t just jump on stirring all the time.  Add a bit of water or wine if your veggies stick to the skillet. Step No.3: While it’s good to have a tasty home-made broth added to it, you will still have a very palatable result without it – just replace the stock with boiled water.
Killer App: If you don’t have any fresh fennel, use some crashed fennel seeds for that Southern kick and make a cultural substitution, i.e. celery instead of fennel bulb.

Optionally, add black or green olives and/or capers into the plates when ladling soup in for an extra Mediterranean kick.  Enjoy!
Shrimp & Fish Soup à la Provençal
2 cups of water
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 small carrot, peeled and cubed
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp fennel seeds crushed (optional)
½ tsp chili flakes
Pinch of saffron (optional)
1 medium onion, minced
1 leek, white part only, julienned
1 small fennel bulb (or 2 celery stalks), fronds removed, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 can (14 oz) tomatoes
½ cup dry white wine (or 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar)
2 tablespoons fresh dill (or parsley), chopped
½ lb salmon (grouper, haddock, or other white firm fish) fillet
1 lb shrimp, shelled and deveined
 4 cups fish (or chicken) stock
Salt & pepper to taste
Fresh dill, chopped for garnish
In a large pot, add potatoes, carrots and bay leaves; cover with 2 cups of water, bring to boil and simmer for 15 minutes.  Set aside.
In the meantime, cut the fish into small cubes and put aside along with shrimps.
Heat the olive oil, butter, chili flakes and fennel seeds in the skillet or Dutch oven. Add onion, leek, fennel and garlic and sauté over the medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the veggies softened. Add tomatoes and sauté for another 2 minutes until they begin to break down. Add wine, increase to high heat and stir for 2 minutes. Add fish and shrimp* and sauté for 2-3 minutes.  Add stock, orange zest and bring to boil. Incorporate with cooked potatoes and carrots. Bring to boil, skim the foam (if any) and simmer stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Verify the seasoning. Ladle the soup into plates and serve immediately with lemon wedges and crusted bread on the side. 
*If shrimp is already cooked, add it to the soup 2 minutes before the end.

Miracle Food: Sautéed Leeks & Carrots

If you like leeks and carrots like I do, you will be amazed how delicious, yet simple this gluten free vegetarian dish/side course is. 

It has been a keeper for me ever since I discovered the recipe in Mireille Guiliano’s book ‘’French Women Don’t Get Fat’’ (in which the queen of Veuve Clicquot shares her tips how to eat, enjoy food and stay slim French way). She calls leek a ‘’miracle food’’ for low calories, tons of fiber, vitamins and, most importantly, the ability to detoxify and remove excess water from the body (mild diuretic). This particular dish is excellent in combination with many other vegetarian dishes, as well as pastas, rice and, especially fish dishes. Great when hot or cold, travels well, can be prepared well in advance and stored in a fridge for a few days.  
I personally love to sprinkle it with some roasted almonds or shaved sharp cheese and pair this dish with grilled sardines or potato-crusted salmon. If you have any leftovers, you can turn them into a savory frittata, risotto, or even soup (with your choice of veggies added). Or just follow Mrs. Guiliano’s tip and have them on the toasted crusty bread drizzled with some good olive oil and topped with Swiss or Cheddar (warm up until the cheese is melted). There is another leek dish Mireille Guiliano is famous for: the ‘’drinking leek broth’’ for a healthy week-end fasting and weight control. Great to expel uric acid and cholesterol, however, totally distasteful compared to this one.

Try to make it for a change and it will hook you fast (unless you are the leeks hater). Now that farmer’s markets and groceries are abundant in both, fresh leeks and carrots, it’s time to enjoy what we call eat seasonal, eat local and give yourself some boost of energy.

The recipe takes just few ingredients (carrots, leeks, shallots, olive oil and butter) and about 15 minutes of your time. I added a bit of lemon juice and a pinch of dry oregano for an extra layer of taste, otherwise the recipe has been unaltered.

Yields: 4 servings.
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
6 oz carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1/3 cup of water
10 oz leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced
2 tbsp shallots, minced
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed (optional)
1 pinch of dry oregano (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Warm 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet. Add carrots, and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add 1/3 cup of water, lemon juice and herbs (if using), season with salt and pepper, and stir in the leeks and shallots. Cover and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender. Add the butter, and cook for a minute or two more.

Adapted from: ‘’French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure’’ by Mireille Guiliano, Vintage, October 2007