Leeks Au Gratin

Leeks have been relegated to the status of soup ingredient. But this mild cousin to onion and garlic has a seductive taste that is stand-alone good. Often used in French cooking, and the main ingredient in the classic dish vichyssoise, the leek is more commonly available in grocery stores than ever before.

It easily becomes comfort food when made au gratin style, enhanced simply with cream, salt and pepper. Topped with grated Pecorino Romano cheese (highly recommended by chefs of Italian food), it is elevated to an exquisite side dish that family and friends will love. Think Pecorino Romano is the same “grated cheese” you buy in a green canister? Try the real thing and you’ll never go back.

Leeks are often quite sandy and dirty when purchased, so wash thoroughly. The dark green leafy portions are too bitter to eat and even to use for making stock, so discard them.

Leeks Au Gratin
Ingredients

6 medium leeks, white and light-green part only
1 1/2 cups heavy cream (usually called whipping cream in stores)
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Pans Needed

Large (at least 12-inch), heavy skillet
Two-quart baking dish (an 8×8 or 9×9 pan will work)

Method

Preheat oven to 375 F if baking immediately. Slice leeks in half lengthwise. In a large, heavy skillet, place leeks and cream. Sprinkle salt and pepper over all. Cook five minutes on medium-high until mixture is boiling. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook five minutes. Remove cover and simmer another 15 minutes. Transfer to baking dish. If making later, cover tightly with aluminum foil and refrigerate up to one day. If baking immediately, grate cheese over mixture and bake covered for about 30 minutes, or until golden. Test leeks with a fork for doneness. They should be soft to lightly firm. Let set for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Braised Cabbage

I’ll bet you, and most farmers, didn’t know this: an acre of cabbage will yield more food than any other plant. This cousin to broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts doesn’t get its due. Other than using it for cole slaw, many people don’t know what to do with it.

Foodies might swear that cabbage originated in Ireland. It’s known cabbage is more popular in Europe than in the U.S. so it makes sense. But the truth is cabbage–just like the Mallory family, is not from Ireland. (My ancestry is French, where the name was Mal Rei, and later anglocized to Mallrey and then Mallory.) It was the Celts who brought cabbage to Europe from Asia around 600 B.C. The Asians had been growing and eating cabbage at least since 2000 B.C.
So how to cook cabbage, and make it a presentable side dish, possibly even something children will eat? I modified some Polish, African-American and Amish recipes to develop this, and added beer instead of water. If you’re making it for kids, it’s perfectly fine to use water in place of beer (yes, the alcohol cooks out, but let’s stay legal here). The result is delicious, not sharp-tasting, and not limp in any way.


Braised Red Cabbage

1/2 lb. bacon, chopped
3 lbs. cabbage
1/2 cup beer
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

In a 4- or 5-quart saucepan, cook bacon till done. Remove bacon strips from pan and set aside. Chop cabbage into approximately inch-cube size pieces and cook in bacon drippings until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Cabbage cubes will fall apart but this is fine; do not overstir. Add beer, balsamic vinegar and stir.  Add remaining ingredients and cook until cabbage softens, about 5 minutes. Crumble bacon and sprinkle bacon pieces on top. Serve immediately.