Monday, April 8, 2013

at this point in April

Because there were no hockey practices, and the daylight now lingers long enough to allow it, and the sun shone warmly, we walked the mile and a half to our neighborhood ice cream parlor after dinner twice last week. While we were out, we exchanged greetings with and waved to neighbors we haven’t seen since last fall. Every last flowering tree in the neighborhood was in bloom. Walking under and in the pink, white, and purple veils of blossoms felt like stumbling through an exaggerated dream sequence in a movie. Over the weekend, the boys wanted to make the trek for ice cream, again, despite torrential rain. They’ve fallen right back into our spring and summer routine of after-dinner walks without comment; hockey season is over, and it’s as if it was never a part of our life. So we put on our raincoats, grabbed a ball to toss around, and headed out on the slippery, petal-carpeted sidewalks.

In the mornings, I listen to the world on the other side of our walls slowly come to life. The first lone call is followed, tentatively, by the stutter of several more. Within a matter of minutes, the volume and quantity of sound increases to a symphony that, by breakfast, subsides into the background of my consciousness.

Our two indoor cats have taken to staring hard out the windows at what appears to be nothing while making crazy, guttural sounds. Every spring and fall, when the weather changes, a lizard or two finds its way inside; a small consolation for their lost opportunities outdoors. On occasion, we end up finding a tail, or worse, behind the couch or under the dining room table. 

There’s still enough of a chill that I’m subsisting on comfort foods. I think of it as transitional eating. I learned from Melissa Clark that leeks planted in the fall and left in the ground until spring, which is what is for sale in the markets now, taste sweeter than new-crop leeks in summer. I’ve taken to making a regular batch of leek gratin to have alongside roast chicken, and, best of all, as a vegetarian entrĂ©e.

Creamy Leek Gratin with Parmesan

slightly adapted from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark

If you don't own this book, I highly recommend getting it. I cook from it a couple of times a week on average. It's organized by month, focusing on seasonal availability.

You can assemble this dish several hours in advance and store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake it.

2 pounds leeks (4 to 5 medium; about 4 pounds untrimmed), white and light green parts only, trimmed of the base, and halved lengthwise
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup half and half
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
small pinch cayenne
½ pound Gruyere cheese, grated (about 2 cups)
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about ½ cup)

Preheat the oven to 400F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, rinse the leeks to remove any dirt between the layers. Simmer the leeks in the boiling water until almost tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well and pat completely dry.

In a small saucepan, warm the stock and half and half or milk.

In a separate saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until the roux is pale and frothy, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the warm milk and stir until thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer and season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne; simmer 1 minute more. Whisk in the Gruyere until melted.

Transfer the leeks, cut side up, to the prepared pan. Spoon the sauce over the leeks. Sprinkle the top with the Parmesan. Bake until the sauce is bubbling and golden, about 40 minutes.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings


Christine said...

Yum. Leek gratin sounds like a delicious veg option. Not as big a treat as walking for ice cream...

Lecia Phinney said...

Thanks, Christine. And yes! - good, but not as good as ice cream, alas.

Lindi Beaudreault said...

Transitional eating. I like that. Yearning for the spring blossoms that you are seeing. Hopefully soon!

shari said...

one of my very favorite cookbooks. we've made so many of the recipes. all good. hope you guys are well.

Denise | Chez Danisse said...

Nice leek recipe, Lecia. Just popped over to my library website and found I'm able to look at the electronic version of this cookbook in my browser. Nifty. I've perused this book before and liked it. The radish and anchovy crostini looks like something I might be trying in the near future.

molly said...

oooh, i have this book, but somehow missed these leeks. thanks for spot-lighting them.

have you tried molly's leeks with tarragon (orangette, ages ago)? they are devastatingly good, with a handful of ingredients and unbearable flavor. i make them every year at thanksgiving, and as many times in between as i can manage, then greedily hoard them at my end of the table, all the better to eat the whole batch.

happy april to you, lecia.