Lately I’ve noticed that, for the culinarily sophisticated, there are only two socially acceptable ways to consume vegetables, without appearing ‘outré’; Raw or Roasted. Palatability notwithstanding, I’ve found that if one chooses the latter, and carefully follows the trendiest recipes, they will achieve both. The vegetables will be sufficiently firm, toothsome and of an adequately neutral temperature on the inside to satisfy the vitality enthusiastic, raw food contingency, while the outside, blackened, crispy and redolently carboniferous, will fulfill the roasters is all of us.
Recently, and at the encouragement of the hostess for a Thanksgiving meal, I prepared a leek dish, the recipe for which I was directed to by the hostess at finecooking.com website. Reading it through and looking at the photograph of the completed dish I was struck asunder by the painful and humiliating realization that I was hopelessly out of food trend fashion. What to do? Follow the recipe to the letter and bear the dish to the gathering with the pride of knowing that I was ‘au courant’ in the eyes of the professionals, or, change the recipe, for the sake of my outlandishly old-fashioned tastes regarding palatability, and risk that humiliation? I chose humility. Dental challenges asides, I find raw vegetables delectable when they are really raw, and I truly enjoy cooked vegetables, no matter the method, when they are, in fact, cooked, but I can’t seem to warm to the idea of the hybrids. I feel similarly about pasta. It’s either cooked or its not. (Of course, there’s overcooked, but that comes under different headings entirely; DIY Home Improvement, subcategory: Wallcovering Adhesive, or Hobby Farm as Chicken Fodder). If I had the time, I would be game to argue about ‘al dente’ until the proverbial cows come back to their proverbial home, however, with limited time,and patience at a premium, I settle with two categories; cooked or uncooked. Many shades of subtlety pertain but these I leave to professional gastronomes, not churls, like me, who like to judge a dish by its digestibility.
Back to Thanksgiving. I ventured into the garden and dug the leeks. Cleaned them, sliced them into uncouth, miserably out-of-fashion, dowdy, mouth-sized one inch sections, if you can believe it, blanched them (yes, I’m almost ashamed to admit it, I did, and didn’t even bother to plunge them into cold water, which I’m sure a sophisticated professional would do for the sake of the written word, or, at least under the gastronomic auspices of ‘retaining color’), (white!?) and then went on my merry, bombastic way of recipe bastardization by adding more cream than was called for ( by gastronomes and cardiologists combined), adding salt (quelle horreur!) and mincing garlic to such a fine mash as is generally reserved for political debates.
A few, very kind and obviously old-fashioned, friends have asked for the recipe (out of compassion or sympathy, no doubt) and so I include it here. But, be warned! The result is nothing like the culinary standards that are described in the first paragraph. These are more comfort than current; soft, creamy, calorie rich leeks that accompany mashed potatoes and are to be washed down with plenty of good, dry red or white bordeaux.
Leek Casserole (adapted from original recipe called Creamy Baked leeks with Garlic, Thyme and Parmigiano by Susan Middelton)
1 tsp butter
8-10 medium-large leeks
2 tsps. minced, fresh thyme (dried is a substitute in a similar quantity)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 tsp salt
2 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
1/3 – 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter a shallow-ish 10″x15″ casserole dish/baking pan. Prepare the leeks. Cut most of the green leaves off, leaving about 2 ” of sturdy green at the top. Trim the roots off the bottom. Cut the leeks into 1″ sections and wash thoroughly. I immerse them in cold water in a salad spinner, rinsing and repeating twice with fresh cold water, agitating them with my hands to make sure there’s no dirt….(but our leeks are home grown so maybe not an issue with store bought leeks) and spinning them dry like lettuce.
Parboil the leeks, plunging them into a bath of boiling water for about 1 minute and the drain them, and distribute them into the buttered casserole dish. Sprinkle the thyme over them and toss a bit to distribute the herb evenly.
In a saucepan on the stovetop, heat the cream, garlic,and salt to boiling point. Turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes. (Personally, I think you could avoid this entire step and just mix up the cream, garlic and salt and pour it over the leeks…that’s what we do with scalloped potatoes and no-one has ever complained). Pour the sauce over the leeks and bake for 35 minutes. Sprinkle the cheese (you could use cheddar or gruyere if you’re out of Parmesan) and turn the heat to broil for a few minutes until the cheese browns.