gardens across the northern hemisphere are winding down. my garden has slowly become a shadow of its former self, with the beans gone and the courgettes wilted. the strong specimens of the brassica family are standing with a few less leaves from the recent windstorm. the rainbow chard has been reluctant to grow new shoots, and the lettuces will be moving into a cold frame soon enough.
|winter cabbage plant with leek seedling and curly kale in background|
its all fine because i've planned ahead this year and decided to have a go at a winter veg plot. usually i have a few chard plants left or some leeks but never planted with winter in mind. i found a great book on the subject, How to Grow Winter Vegetables by Charles Dowding, it has absolutely all the information you'll ever need on the subject. as well as a chapter on 'No-Dig' gardening which i'm keen to have a go at next spring.
|my winter veg patch at present|
most of my winter veg plants were a bit late going in but seem to be braving the elements well. i picked up curly kale, winter cauliflower and winter cabbage at the Mahon Point Farmer's Market in August. they sat outside till september when they finally had room in the veg plot, after the spuds.
i also started leeks indoors and interplanted raddichio treviso and 'pixie' cabbage between the rows.
|winter veg patch after planting, 2 months ago. the blue slug pellets are organic and bird friendly.|
among my 'crops still-hanging-on' are leeks. some have bolted (which im happy for cause i love their globe like flowers in the garden), and many were quite thin: perfect for this recipe for Leeks Vinaigrette. leeks vinaigrette is a classic leek recipe: when cooking the leeks, you can't help but feel 'retro', as with any recipe that requires cooking with boiling water. cooking leeks this way makes them ultra tender, dressed with a zingy vinaigrette and crispy bacon complete the package wonderfully.
|Leeks going to flower. before they bloom they send out spear like shoots that will soon become flowering globes|
i used Ummera Smoked Bacon from Ummera Smoke House because it's a superior product and a local family run business located in Timoleague, Co. Cork, just down the road from us in Ballinspittle. they have been smoking meats for 40 years and specialize in Smoked Organic Salmon, Smoked Chicken Breasts, and Smoked Duck Breasts; as well as extraordinary Smoked Bacon/Rashers. the smoked bacon is finely sliced which crisps wonderfully in the pan, they don't really need any oil either. Ummera's products are highly saught after and worth every penny, the smoked chicken breasts are so succulent and moist they are irresistable, needing next to nothing to make a meal from, the products speak for themselves. we sell Ummera products in the Bakery/Deli year round
i grow leeks every year without fail. i love how thier textured leaves contrast other vegetables in the garden, with a soft greeny blue flair, and as i mentioned before the flowers are also welcomed - here and there. when planting leeks give them moist well manured soil to grown in.
i start my leeks indoors in early spring (late feb - march), sowed in rows in flat trays. when the seedlings are 3-4 inches tall, sometime in may, i harden them off in a sheltered spot outside for a week. then i plant them out using a pencil. i push the pencil into the soil about 2 inches then drop the seedlings gently pressing them into the hole. place seedlings abour 15-25 cm apart depending on the size of leek you want - more space makes bigger plants. leave around 40 cm between rows. its a good idea, once the plants start getting on in life, to mound up some of the soil around the stalks, this blanches the stems to yield a more succulent white leek for cooking.
leeks should be ready to harvest from october to march depending on the variety, and size of leek you want. when they look big enough, pull em! leeks that have gone to flower aren't worth cooking, enjoy them for what they are meant to be - food for pollinators, and a lovely cut flower.
leeks have a much softer flavour than most of thier allium cousins and are usually sliced and sauteed in butter and herbs till meltingly tender, then added to soups or a creamy sauce. as with this recipe they can be more of a main ingreidetn too. they cook well as a gratin, also roasted in the oven. a leek should always be soft and tender and never cooked 'al dente' or with any chewyness.
|a trimmed and split leek with bulb end intact, this is the best way to clean leeks.|
Leeks Vinaigrette with Hazelnut Oil and Ummera Smoked Bacon
serves 2-3 as a side
i used bacon in this recipe because i love bacon. but for the veggies out there you can substitute it with toasted chopped haelnuts or walnuts, or plain leave it out! after cooking the leeks handle them gently, they may break up a bit. the cooking time is one to watch because the leeks can go too soft to handle if over cooked. feel free to substitute ingredients you have on hand in the dressing, i.e. dijon for wholegrain mustard, cider vinegar for balsamic or walnut oil for the hazlenut.
1/2 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
4 slices of Ummera smoked bacon, diced small and fried until dark and crispy
- to prepare the leeks, cut off all but the palest green tops. then strip off andy dried out layers. split the leeks down the middle with a paring knife leaving the bulb end in tact. run the leeks under cold water to remove any grit that may have worked into the layers.
- bring a pot, or saucepan large enough to hold the leeks, filled with salted water to the boil.
- drop in your leeks and let simmer till they have become translucent and tender, around 10-15 minutes. you can squeeze the bulb end of your leek and if its soft, they are ready.
- while the leeks are cooking, place the mustard, vinegar, hazelnnut oil, olive oil, and salt and pepper into a jam jar with a lid. close the lid, and shake till emulsified, this is the vinaigrette.
- drain your cooked leeks into a colander over the sink, pat dry with a tea towel or kitchen paper. toss your leeks gently in a bowl with the vinaigrette. portion out onto serving plates and scatter the crispy bacon pieces over the leeks. serve warm or at room temperature.
|tender cooked leeks|