The leek is the tall and handsome star of the Allium genus, which includes onions, scallions, garlic, shallots, chives and ramps. Its long stalk is made up of tightly bundled leaves, while the white part grows underground and dirt embeds between the layers as it matures. If you’re planning to serve leeks whole, split them lengthwise almost to the root end and fan out their layers to clean and rinse away grit. Like onions, leeks meld with almost any flavor, but they’re especially elegant as the main ingredient. Two of the most common uses are in vichyssoise and cock-a-leekie soup. You can also try them braised in wine or other liquid, creamed as you would onions or spinach, added to omelets, quiches and frittatas, or poached with a tarragon vinaigrette. Pile sautéed leeks onto tarts or pizza. Large leeks are great on the grill.
- The French phrase faire le poireau—“to make the leek”—means to wait for a long time.
- The name Leighton derives from the Old English leac tun, which means “leek garden.”
- Leeks can grow to be two or three feet long. The heaviest on record was over 21 pounds.
- The leek is a Welsh national symbol, akin to the Irish shamrock.
- Roman Emperor Nero’s nickname was Porophagus, or “Leek Eater,” because of his love for the vegetable.
“Since they’re reminiscent of a mild onion with a slight vegetal quality, the obvious pairing would be Sauvignon Blanc, but I like Verdejo,” says Morgan Slade, food and beverage director of the buzzy Quirk Hotel, a Two Roads Hospitality hotel, in Richmond, Virginia. “It brings that same direct crispness, with added nuttiness and notes of honeysuckle and citrus blossom that pair well with leeks’ sweetness, as in a caramelized leek tart. “With cheese or cream, like our leek, oyster mushroom and Gruyère fondue, I like Grenache Blanc, with its fuller body and notes of green almond and creamy lemon curd,” says Slade. “On the lighter side, leeks in vinaigrette or pickled bring to mind something crisp, clean, aromatic and unoaked, like Friulano or Garganega.”