What’s on the Market – Lovin’ the Leeks

Leeks.

No, they aren’t what happen when there’s a hole in the ceiling when it rains. A leek is a vegetable related to onion and garlic. Unlike onions and garlic however, leeks can be a little more confusing to use if you’ve never used/eaten them before. While onions are spherical and garlic forms into a head, leeks form long bundles of leaf sheaths. So, imagine you took several pieces of paper and rolled them together tightly. Add some leaf stalks, and you’ve got a leek. Well, sort of.

They are very hardy plants, once they’ve started growing. You can leave them in-ground during the winter to be harvested as needed. Leeks can be grown all over the northern part of the United States because they prefer cooler climates. They grow best in sandy soil with some moisture. Leeks can be grown in Illinois, but the season is not until late summer – early fall.

Leeks can get especially dirty and require extra washing specifically around the area where the stalks start to separate from the stem. Peeling the outside layers to rinse the dirt off is the best way to clean them. After they’re cleaned, which part do you eat? The white – light green part of the stem is the best part. But, anything up to where the leaves start separating is good to eat. After that, the vegetable becomes too fibrous and tough.

When shopping for leeks, look for ones that are not super thin. The stem part should be fairly long and not soft. I like leeks that have about half-dollar size or slightly larger stems. More stems means more leeks!

I finally decided, after thinking the entire week of what to make with my leeks, to make pasta. Worst case scenario, make pasta. Seriously. It’s a great base for thousands of combinations of vegetables, meats and sauces. I sliced my leeks and some mushrooms for this garlic and mushroom pasta. I also added bacon. Also can never go wrong there.

Garlic and Mushroom Penne, serves 4

    • 1 lb penne (or any other shape you like)
    • ¼ – ½ lb bacon (more or less depending on preference, sliced thinly)
    • 2 leeks (sliced thinly)
    • 4 oz baby bella mushrooms (also named crimini, portobellini, they’re all the same, sliced thinly)
    • 2 tbsp butter
    • 4 cloves of garlic
    • Juice from half a lemon
    • ½ cup cream (I used half low fat milk, half half & half)
    • Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to boil and add the penne. Follow the instructions on the bag, until al dente.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, sauté the bacon until crispy. Remove from pan onto a paper towel to drain. Add the sliced mushrooms and leeks to the pan and sauté until all the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms have begun to brown. Add the butter and sauté for another minute.

Add the garlic and sauté for another minute. Add the cream and lemon juice, season to taste. Drain the pasta and pour into the saucepan to toss with the sauce. Serve.

This pasta is really easy and tastes delicious. Perfect for a date (Valentine’s Day, anniversary?) or for cooking with a friend.

Next week is cauliflower, a relative of kale!

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