Make a Welshman happy – serve him leeks on the first day of March (St David’s Day).
Oh I could happily ‘bang on’ about the humble leek, extensively cultivated in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and the national emblem of Wales (and also the regional symbol of Oltenia, Rumania). When renowned couturier, Norman Hartnell, tried to replace it with the “more attractive Welsh daffodil” to be embroidered on Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation gown, he was faced with an emphatic “no” from our future monarch. Got to love her.
The subtle hint of sweetness and mildly oniony flavour of leeks is sublime. They work beautifully in pies, tarts and risottos and are a perfect accompaniment to most cheeses, ham, bacon or salmon. Buttered leeks with a sprinkling of thyme make a divine side dish – and I think they come into their own when lightly braised in a skillet, oh so simply, with a tiny amount of olive oil and best quality sea salt.
Leeks were a favourite vegetable of Emperor Nero, who enjoyed them in a soup (you can see where this is going…) and consumed them believing that they improved the quality of his voice. Though I can’t say my singing has been welcomed with any increasing enthusiasm, I still wolf down bowlfuls in hope. Nero wasn’t wrong to value them made into a soup and the velvety texture and comforting element of this leek and potato veloute soup make it a firm favourite with all. A small swirl of crème fraiche and some snipped chives in each individual bowl turn a basic soup into a treat. Serve it as a light lunch with delicious hot bread or as a first course at dinner – noting that it is quite filling, so choose a light main course to follow, like herbed, grilled fish or chicken on wilted spinach…yum. The chilled version of this is Vichyssoise– fabulous and much loved summer fare.
INGREDIENTS (Serves 6 – 8)
7 – 8 medium leeks – 500 grams when trimmed
2 medium white onions – 300 grams when peeled
Potatoes – 300 grams when peeled
80 grams butter
1 litre vegetable or chicken stock – use your own or a ‘Kallo’ stock cube
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper – there’s a blend of 4 peppercorns with coriander seed, made by McCormick, which I find gives an extra aroma and can be used instead of black pepper
150 – 200 ml milk
Crème fraiche (or single cream or single cream blended with a little Greek yoghurt)
Small bunch of chives
The soup is now ready to serve. I’ve noticed that if I allow it to cool down and keep it refrigerated over-night, the flavour of the leeks seems to come through more intensely the following day – whether it’s served hot or chilled.
To serve, add a swirl of crème fraiche and some snipped chives to each bowl.
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