I have just used up the last of my leeks. That means we ate about 225 leeks this fall. That is a lot of leeks. We grow two different kinds for two slightly different purposes.
My favorite for flavor and beauty is Bleu Solaize, a French heirloom variety that is just majestic in the garden. It stands about 2 feet tall and has thick, blue-green leaves that make for a dramatic, palm-like display in the kitchen garden or tucked into a mixed ornamental bed. The leaves even turn a pretty violet color once cold weather hits. I think they would make a lovely back drop for some bright red ladybird poppies or mixed in with some verbena bonariensis and short sonata cosmos. What really makes Bleu Solaize special though, is its ability to survive very cold temperatures. If I still had some in the garden, I would start mulching them with straw right about now (early December) and would be able to harvest them all winter and even into early spring. I guess next year I will have to plant even more leeks.
The other variety we grow is King Richard (known as "King Dick" around the greenhouse work bench). I love this variety because it is ready to eat long before the Bleu Solaize (you can start to eat them at the baby stage - see recipe below), it does not require hilling, and it easy to clean. It has been bred to be "self-blanching" which means that the white, edible part is extra long in proportion to the green part and does not have to be buried in soil to stay white, so overall the leek stays cleaner and there is much less waste or compost to deal with. All of this ease in growing and cooking is at the cost of flavor. These leeks are sweet and mild, but just don't pack the same rich, leeky flavor of the Bleu Solaize. I still like them a ton, though, and this is why we grow TWO kinds of leeks!
Growing and Care of Leeks:
Our plants come in 4 packs and there are about 100 plants per pack. This may seem like a lot, but since they hold in the garden for such a long time, it is really a moderate amount that can be eaten over a 3 to 6 month period. I start out by making a trench with the edge of my hoe, about 3 inches deep. You should allow for 6 inches of space per leek in rows that are about 8 to 12 inches apart. So for one 4 pack of leeks, I usually prepare three row that are 18 feet long. You can pack them in a little tighter if you don't have the space. You can also plant them in once long row, which makes them easier to hill. You can also plant crops with a short life span (radishes, arugula, lettuce, spinach) right near them since leeks take a long time to size up and use all their alloted space. When planting the leeks in their trench, it is important to bury them about as far down as you can and leave only a few inches of the delicate green top showing. They are really slow to grow, so you can save space by planting them in a nurse bed, where you just pack them in pretty tightly and wait a month or so to transplant them to their rows in the garden. Just keep them well watered either way. Leeks and onions need lots of water to get established and off to a good start. And keep them well weeded too; the slow growth rate of leeks makes them very susceptible to weed pressure. Once the leeks are about a half inch in diameter, you can hill them by gently piling loose soil around their base a few inches up the plant. This is alos a great time to add compost and some straw mulch. Once mulched and composted, the leeks become pretty much care-free other than some watering every now and then. The mulch and the compost help retain moisture, so it they are a critical component of having nice, large leeks.
Some of my favorite leek recipes
First of all, here is a nice video of how to wash leeks. It's pretty quick once you are used to it.
Leeks in Vinaigrette3 to 4 leeks per person (if they are small) or 1 or 2 leeks per person if they are large. about a tablespoon of this vinaigrette Garnishes: a table spoon of capers per plate, half a chopped hard boil egg, finelly chopped tarragon, parsley or chives Arrange leeks on indivudual serving plates, drizzle with dressing and top with garnishes.
Braised LeeksPlace washed and trimmed leeks in an oven-proof casserole dish in a single, snug layer. Pour in enough stock (chicken, beef, veggie - your choice) to fill in half way up the leeks. Tuck in a few sprigs of thyme, rosemary, or savory in between the leeks. Salt and pepper liberally, dot with a few small nuggets of butter. Cover with tin foil and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until soft, about 45 to 60 minutes depending on the size of your leeks. Uncover the leeks, sprinkle with a little freshly grated parmesan and place under a preheated broiler until browned and bubbly. You can skip the cheese and broiler phase if you want to be more wholesome about it.
Potato Leek Soup
In a large soup pot, place the following ingredients:3 washed and trimmed leeks, roughly chopped 2 small/medium potatoes, roughly chopped 1 gallon or so of broth of your choice (chicken, beef, or veggie) a few sprigs of rosemary or thyme a few cloves of garlic, finely chopped Let everything simmer on medium/low heat until very tender, about one hour or so. Remove herb sprigs and puree in a blender or with a hand held immersion blender (much easier method). Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in a little heavy cream if you are feeling decadent. Garnish with fresh pasley or chives, finely chopped.