Only a few weeks ago, there was a food festival going on a couple of miles away from here. Cervere, the village hosting this festival, is known for having the best and most precious leeks in the whole country. Curious and suspicious, I drove my car there on a foggy Sunday afternoon and found a scant group of of bored farmers selling bunches of long leeks on the side of the road. Six euro a bunch, to be precise. It seemed a lot to me, but holding them in my arms I totally changed my mind: those guys were heavy!
What makes these leeks so special is the soil where they grow. Cervere’s soil is rich in lime, sand and calcium, all things that give leeks a unique sweetness. The microclimate of the area, characterized by constant, mild wind and sunlight, enables leeks to become long yet tender and easy to digest once cooked, and to be very fungi-resistant, with consequent less use of pesticides.
One bunch was enough to make three dishes.
The first is a big classic: leek risotto. Acquerello rice (aged organic Carnaroli rice), Cervere leeks and Salsiccia di Bra (veal and pork sausage). I didn’t invent anything here. I just borrowed a traditional recipe and made it mine using local ingredients from my cupboard/fridge. The great news is that anyone can make your own just by using some good sausage, good rice (the best varieties for risotto are carnaroli, arborio or vialone nano), and fresh leeks. This ingredients bind together like magic. You will want to make this recipe over and over again. It’s perfect for a lunch during the upcoming holidays.
- 5 leeks
- 2 very small potatoes, peeled
2T olive oil
- 3 1/2 cups water
2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
grated parmigiano for serving
extra virgin olive oil for serving
Rinse leeks and cut off ends and green/tough parts. Slice stems into 1/2-inch discs. Cut potatoes into small cubes. Heat oil in a big pot over medium heat, add leeks and potatoes and sear them for three minutes, stirring occasionally. Add water and salt, reduce heat to medum low and let cook for about 30 minutes, or until vegetables are cooked and softened. Blend with an immersion blender, adjust seasoning adding more salt if needed. Serve hot with parmigiano and a drizzle of olive oil. Serves 4.
The second dish is another classic, leek soup. I do believe leeks were created to become soup, and Cervere ones are no exception. Soup made with these leeks turned out sweeter and more velvety than usual, and the old good trick of adding a couple of potatoes gives it an even more creamy texture. Do you have crusty bread? Good olive oil? Parmigiano? If you do, try the soup for lunch. Don’t hesitate. Buy the best leeks you can find and make yourself a gift: this soup is low in calories and high in minerals and fibers, and it taste lovely.
Finally, on Fish Friday, I used leeks and taggiasca olives as a side for a trout fillet. After trying this recipe a few times, I can affirm that it works very well. Freshwater fish and leeks match very well together, and the olives serves to balance the flavor profile adding a hint of bitterness to the dish. Cervere leeks work just as good as normal leeks here. If you happen to find white trout or any other white fish with a character (dory, sea bass etc.) at your local market you might want to give this recipe a chance. It makes for a satisfying and balanced meal. You will be doing well before Holiday Eating Marathons.
- 3 leeks
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 5 ounces sausage (pork and veal mix is ideal)
- 1 cup uncooked carnaroli or arborio rice (I used Acquerello rice)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 4 cups low sodium vegetable stock
- 1 tsp fine grain sea salt
- 1/4 cup grated parmigiano, plus more for serving
Rinse leeks and cut off the ends and the tough, green parts. Cut the stems lenghwise into 1/2-inch discs and set aside. Cut sausage in 1/2-inch chuncks and set aside. In a medium pot over low heat, bring stock to a boil, then lower the heat and keep it warm and ready to be used. In a large pan over medium fire, melt 2 tablespoons of butter, add leeks and cook for three-four minutes, stirring occasionally using a wood spoon, then add sausage and cook for two more minutes. Add rice and toast it for about three minutes stirring frequently to avoid sticking and burning, then add the wine and let evaporate. Rise the heat to medium high and start adding the stock gradually, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently, adding more stock only when all the liquid has been absorbed. Check your rice for doneness after 10 minutes, it should be done between 10 and 13 minutes. The amount of stock depends on the type of rice you are using. Remove from heat when your rice is al dente. If your risotto is too dense, add 1/4 cup stock and let it rest, covered, for two minutes. Past this time, uncover and proceed with the mantecatura: add the rest of the butter, cold and cut into cubes, and the parmigiano. Stirr energically, until completely melted. Adjust seasoning with more salt if needed. The final result should be runny and fluid (all’onda), not piled and sticky. If your risotto is too sticky, don’t be afraid to add more hot stock before serving. Top the plated risotto with some parmigiano to taste. Serves 2 to 4.
Trout Fillet with Saute Leeks and Olives
- 2 trout fillets (better with skin on one side)
- 1T olive oil
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 4 T lemon juice
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup taggisca olives or other black olives, pitted
- 2 medium leeks
- 2T olive oil
- 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
Additional side (optional): boiled baby potatoes with salt, black pepper and olive oil
Rinse leeks, cut off ends and slice stems into discs. Heat 1T olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, add leeks and saute for three minutes, until cooked but still firm. Season with salt. and set aside. In the meantime, heat 2 T olive oil in another large skillet over medium high heat, place trout fillet on the side of the skin and let cook for four minutes. Season with salt and add the wine and let it evaporate completely, then add lemon juice. Once all the liquid has gone, flip fillets flash down with a spatula and press lightly to flatten a bit. Let them brown for one more minute, turn off the heat and transfer to plates. Top with olives and freshly chopped parsley and serve with the saute leeks. Serves 2.
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