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Pair leeks, pork in stew

  • Stew pairs pork with fresh leeks, straight from the garden. HILLARY NELSON / For LiveWell

  • Untrimmed leeks

  • Wash leeks by soaking trimmed plants in a pot of water until debris falls off. HILLARY NELSON photos / For LiveWell

  • Prepared leeks HILLARY NELSON—For LiveWell



For LiveWell
Tuesday, October 03, 2017

I don’t know what it is with me and onions, but some years I raise a bumper crop – harvesting hundreds of huge, well-shaped, long-keepers for the winter. Other years, I start with the same number of seedlings and wind up with barely a few dozen by the end of the summer. Onions are persnickety.

Leeks, which make a good substitute for onions in many recipes, are much easier to grow. No matter what I do to my leek seedlings – crowd them, forget them among the weeds, neglect to water them for weeks on end – virtually every leek I plant comes to something. Which means that when my onions fail, at least I have another allium to get me through winter.

Tall, slender, celadon green on the outside, fading to white within, leeks are much more subtly flavored than their spicy cousins. Unfortunately, leeks are a little harder than onions to store over the winter once harvested. Some people keep them in the cold cellar with their roots buried in damp sand for the winter, but that takes up a lot of space.

Instead, I grow two kinds of leeks; an early variety like Lincoln to harvest in summer, and a cold-tolerant variety like Bleu de Solaize to harvest in fall. With a little protection, Bleu de Solaize will even make it through winter to harvest in spring, only a little worse for wear.

Unlike onions, leeks have to be washed very carefully in lots of water. Grit is often trapped between their tight layers of leaves and it can’t be rinsed away unless the leek is opened up.

To prep a leek for washing, pull off any yellow or mushy leaves and discard. Then cut off the top several inches of green leaves. Cut away the roots from the bottom, being sure to leave the white end of the leek intact. Starting at the green top, cut the leek in half the long way, stopping the cut about an inch before you get to the bottom of the root end. Leaving this part connected makes them much easier to wash and chop.

Put the leeks into cold water and swish them around to dislodge dirt from between the leaves. Some leeks may be sandy or muddy enough to need a few changes of water before they come clean.

Once washed, leave the leeks the way they are if you intend to cook them whole for dishes such as grilled leeks, or the classic cold poached leeks with mustard vinaigrette. If chopping the leeks, you may want to finish cutting them in half before proceeding.

Chopped leeks are what you will need for the recipe below, a simple pork stew that works well in the shoulder season between early and late fall, when we don’t know if the day will be warm or cold. If you still have good tomatoes in your garden, by all means use them here. Home canned or frozen tomatoes also work, as well as supermarket plum tomatoes. And feel free to make additions if you have them, such as additional vegetables, or to swap in another meat with a bit of fat on it, like chicken thighs.

Pork Smothered in Leeks

1½ pounds, 1-inch cubes of pork butt (start with about 2 pounds and trim the worst of the fat and connective tissue away)

1 pound leeks (after they have been trimmed) cleaned and chopped, about 4 cups

4 tablespoons clarified butter (ghee) or olive oil

1 large onion, grated

3 cloves garlic, grated

2 large tomatoes, grated (discard the skin) or 2 cups canned tomatoes, chopped up (including the juice)

salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

½ teaspoon hot paprika or cayenne

½ cup tomato conserva or tomato paste

1 cup water

fresh hot red pepper (optional for garnish)

Heat half the oil to shimmering in a sturdy pot large enough to hold all the meat chunks without touching. Once all the pieces have been placed in the pot, let them cook at a strong medium heat until they are well browned on one side. Flip the meat and let the other side brown. Lift the meat out of the pot onto a plate and set aside.

If needed, add a little more oil to the same pot and add the 4 cups of leeks. Let them simmer gently, stirring occasionally to incorporate the meat juices left behind into them. Add a little water if needed, and cook until the leeks are quite soft, but not browned, 10 to 15 minutes. When soft, pour the leeks on to the plate with the pork.

Put some more oil in the pan and heat it to a shimmer. Add the onions and let them cook until they begin to turn golden, then add the garlic. Let them cook a few minutes then add the pork, leeks, tomatoes, salt, pepper, paprikas, conserva and water to the pot. Stir well.

Cover and let the stew simmer gently for about half an hour, stirring occasionally. Then remove the lid and taste and adjust the seasoning as desired. Simmer with the lid off for another 30 minutes or so, until the sauce thickens and the meat is tender.

This can be served immediately, refrigerated for several days or frozen. It actually improves with age. Serves four, especially with the addition of good crusty bread and a salad.