Otherwise, Trash: Creamed Leek Stems
I like to cook with leeks, and for a long time, I ended up with bundles of army-green stems that went straight to the trash. Then, as chronicled in a previous entry of “Otherwise, Trash,” I improvised a leek vinaigrette, built around these same stems, which I make to dress grains or for potato salad. Recently with three bunches of leek stems on hand, I began blanching and pureeing for this same vinaigrette, and then stumbled upon a new use entirely: a play on steak-house creamed spinach, but made of the more brazen leek.
Creamed Leek Stems are ridiculously versatile, delicious as a side dish on their own, or stretched with a little pasta water and paired with peas over orecchiette, maybe swirled into a frittata with ricotta cheese, or chilled and spread on crackers.
A couple of delightful side benefits:
–Most creamed spinach recipes include the addition of sauteed onion; using leeks happily eliminates this step.
–The cream reduction in the recipe, a thickening alternative to the traditional roux, can be used on its own, whenever you want to enrich a sauce or soup.
Creamed Leek Stems
2 cups heavy cream
3 quarts water
3 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
1 pound leek stems (dark green part only), from 2 to 3 bunches of leeks, washed well and trimmed of any brown edges
8 cups ice water
1 1/4 cup, loosely packed, finely grated pecorino cheese
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Pour cream into a small, heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a brisk simmer, making sure that the cream doesn’t scorch at the bottom. Reduce cream by half to yield 1 cup. This could take up to 45 minutes, depending on the width of your pot. Once reduced, set aside.
Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add 2 tablespoons of the salt. Add the leeks all at once, pushing down with a spoon or tongs.
Immediately grab a large bowl to fill with ice water and an additional tablespoon of salt. Stir to dissolve salt.
Cook leek stems until they are soft and pliable and just before they begin to darken, 2 to 3 minutes. Strain immediately and plunge strained stems into the ice water, Stir gently to help cools stems quickly. As they cool, you can pull out any stems that have turned yellow or brown. Drain stems very well.
Once well drained, place the stems in a food processor. Process the stems until the pieces resemble torn herb leaves–do not finely puree. This will yield about 2 cups.
Scrape stems into a large bowl. Add the cream, pecorino, white pepper, coriander, and 1 teaspoon salt. Taste for proper seasoning. Fold in almonds at end. Serve warm.
*You may choose to reduce additional cream, if you think you’d find uses for it elsewhere in your mise en place–maybe, chilled and slightly sweetened, then folded into lemon curd for an impromptu dessert.
**As you may imagine, I save this leek stem cooking liquid, too. Taste it. It’s an incredible foundation for a nice vegetable soup. “Otherwise, Trash” taken twice.
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