I have always loved leeks and they have been used since antiquity - dried specimens from archaeological sites in Ancient Egypt, as well as wall carvings and drawings, show that they have been part of the Egyptian diet for millennia. The leek was also the favourite vegetable of the Emperor Nero – he was nicknamed Porrophagus ( the Leek Eater) and thought that eating leeks would improve his singing voice.
Talking of singing voices the leek is one of the national emblems of Wales (the other being the daffodil). According to legend King Cadwallader of Gwynedd ordered his soldiers to wear leeks on their helmets to identify them from the Saxon enemy whilst fighting the Battle of Heathfield in 633 AD – they were fighting in a field of leeks at the time. The Welsh Guards have the leek displayed in their cap badges to this day.
In France the leek is known as "poor man's asparagus," and leeks are an an excellent source of vitamin C as well as iron and fibre. They provide many of the health-giving benefits associated with garlic and onions, such as promoting the functioning of the blood and the heart.
Leeks are traditionally used in the Welsh broth Cawl but in northern France they are used to make a delicious tart: Flamiche aux Poireaux. Flamiche is the Flemish word for cake and originally flamiche used bread dough instead of pastry.
Leek and Cheese Tart (Flamiche aux Poireaux)
2 round, puff-pastry crusts, uncooked
3 tbsp butter
2 lbs (or more) leeks, chopped
3 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
¼ cup grated gruyère cheese
salt and pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 egg yolk
Melt the butter in a frying pan on medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until soft - about 10 minutes.
Stir in the flour until mixed completely with the leeks. Pour in the milk and cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil - about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Stir in nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, line a tart or pie pan with one of the crusts. Brush the bottom of the crust with the egg yolk mixed with a couple of teaspoons of water. Pour the cooled leek mixture into the crust and top with the second crust. Roll the edges together so that the whole tart is sealed. Make a hole in the centre of the tart so that steam can escape. Bake for 30 minutes.
Domaine de Ricaud Blanc (£5.49) is a super wine with this dish. It comes from the Entre Deux Mers and gives other more prestigious and expensive white wines a run for their money. The aromas from this slightly pale, golden coloured, slightly pearlante, easy drinking white, are all of ripe soft fruits and summer blossoms. It has complex flavours of juicy apricots and exotic fruits. Bold and long on the palate, balanced and harmonious in the mouth it has well balanced acidity and one glass will simply not be enough!
It is made from 60% Sauvignon Blanc and 40% Semillon grapes. Sauvignon Blanc is King in Entre Deux Mers and provides the herbaceous flavours of gooseberries and the acidity. Semillon, when ripe, frequently shows pineapple fragrances but more importantly it gives body and ageing potential to blends with Sauvignon Blanc. Together they make a beautiful wine which although delicious on its own goes very well with an array of dishes: shellfish, chicken, pork, omelettes, asparagus flans, smoked salmon . . . the list goes on! It's makers recommend it with soft cheeses – goat's cheese in particular – a marriage made in heaven!
You can find Domaine de Ricaud Blanc at www.bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk
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