Leeks

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Leeks are a member of the Allium family, making them related to garlic and onions but they have a much subtler, sweeter flavour. They can be used to enrich soups (think leek and potato soup) or stews and they partner well with potato or cheese (recipe later on). The edible part of the plant is a bundle of leaf sheaths, what we would call the stem or stalk. Historically many scientific names have been used for leeks but they are now all treated as cultivars of Allium ampeloprasum.

Leeks have been cultivated at least since the time of the ancient Egyptians and are depicted in surviving tomb paintings from that period. Dried specimens from archaeological sites in ancient Egypt as well as wall carvings and drawings, led Zohary and Hopf to conclude the leek was a part of the Egyptian diet from at least the second millennium BCE onwards. They also allude to surviving texts that show it had been also grown in Mesopotamia from the beginning of the second millennium BCE. The Romans considered the leek a superior vegetable and Emperor Nero got through so many he gained the nickname Porrophagus (leek eater). He is reported to have thought that eating leeks would improve the quality of his singing voice.

The leek is one of the national emblems of Wales worn along with the daffodil (in Welsh the daffodil is known as ‘Peter’s leek’, Cenhinen Bedr) on St David’s Day. According to one legend, King Cadwaladr of Gwynedd ordered his soldiers to identify themselves by wearing the vegetable on their helmets in an ancient battle against the Saxons that took place in a leek field. Shakespeare refers to the custom of wearing a leek as an ‘ancient tradition’ in Henry V. The 1985 and 1990 British £1 bear the design of a leek in a coronet, representing Wales. It is used in the cap badge of the Welsh Guards, a regiment within the Household Division of the British Army.

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Start sowing early or late harvesting leeks in small seed-trays undercover in good compost March-April, 3cm apart. Plant out in June or July. It is a particular process: tease the leek (should be about 20cm tall), make a hole 15cmish deep with a pencil and lower the leek gently into it, being careful of the roots. Keep the plants about 15cm from neighbours, 30cm apart. Fill the holes with water – it is important to water baby leeks frequently.

If you are after a larger ratio of white to green, earth the leeks up a little to encourage this.

Harvest September-May (earlier for baby leeks, pick them the size of spring onions during the summer months). Leeks are good hungry gap fillers during winter as they can survive the cold frosty months.

Leave a few to flower through the late spring and into the summer for beauty and seed for the following season but be aware that they won’t replicate the original variety unless that is the only variety you are growing.

The variety I sowed this year was ‘Blue Lake’ bought from the Real Seeds Company and they did really well and I will be sowing them again next year. Other popular varieties are ‘King Richard’ (very early), ‘Monstruoso de Carentan’ (early), ‘D’Hiver de Saint-Victor’ (late), ‘Saint Victor’ (late) and ‘Hannibal’ (early).

I planted my leeks along with my celery and celeriac as I read once that they made good intercropping veg – they both like damp soil so I suspect it makes sense. Otherwise plant them where you are sowing roots or other onions or after potatoes is recommended.

Rust (orange or brown blotches on the leaves) can affect your harvest but usually only decoratively. Seaweed or comfrey feed helps prevent it but rotating your crops is the best way of minimising the problem.

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Leeks have a mild, onion-like taste. In its raw state, the vegetable is crunchy and firm. The edible portions of the leek are the white base of the leaves (above the roots and stem base), the light green parts, and to a lesser extent the dark green parts of the leaves. One of the most popular uses is for adding flavor to stock. The dark green portion is usually discarded because it has a tough texture, but it can be sautéed or added to stock. Leeks are typically chopped into slices 5–10 mm thick. The slices have a tendency to fall apart, due to the layered structure of the leek.

To clean your harvest leeks, slit them along the length of the green part at intervals and immerse in cold water to tease out the soil.

Leeks are 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.

One recipe I have been using our leeks in this year has been Homity Pie: a traditional British open pie. It is essentially a pastry case containing a mixture of potatoes and leeks with cheese. Its origins go back to Land Girl’s of World War II when the restrictions of rationing made it difficult to come up with a hearty dish to feed the land workers. At one point, the cheese ration was a mere ounce (28g) per person per week. Nowadays, we don’t need to worry about that and using plenty of cheese hides the vegetables from children allergic to green…

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Homity Pie

(Serves 8)

For the pastry:

– 150g plain flour – Pinch of salt – 75g unsalted butter – 1 egg yolk – 1 tbsp cold water

For the filling:

– 350g waxy potatoes, such as ‘Charlottes’ – 10g salted butter – 1 tbsp sunflower oil – 1 large onion, sliced – 1-2 leeks, sliced – 1 large garlic clove, diced – 175g grated cheddar cheese – 1tbsp chopped parsley – 1tbsp thyme leaves – 1 tbsp double cream – Salt and pepper – 3tbsp breadcrumbs – 3tbsp grated parmesan cheese

Make the pastry: In a large bowl, add the flour, salt and butter. Using your fingertips, mix the ingredients together until they resemble fine breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre and add the egg yolk and the dash of cold water. Using a wooden spoon, bring the ingredients together until they start to form a dough – if it is too dry add more water, too wet add more flour. Once you have made a dough, using your hands, knead it together into a ball. Put to one side while you make the filling.
Preheat the oven 200C. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Scrub the potatoes and cut them into 2cm pieces and place in the boiling water and leave until cooked through. Drain and set to one side to cool.
Put the butter and oil in a frying pan and add the onion and leek, frying until soft and tender before stirring in the diced garlic and removing from the heat.
In a VERY large bowl, add the potatoes and contents from the frying pan, mixing together with the grated cheddar cheese, parsley, thyme and double cream. Season with salt and pepper.
Line a 20cm tin with baking parchment. Remove the parchment and place the pastry in the centre. Roll it out with a rolling pin so that it is a large circle. Place it inside the tin so that the pastry is evenly going up the sides of the tin halfway all around. Scrape the filling into the pastry case, smoothing down the top. Mix the breadcrumbs and parmesan together and sprinkle over the top.
Cook in the oven for 40 minutes until the pastry is cooked and the top is golden brown. Leave to stand for 5-10 minutes before serving with a leafy salad.

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Egg Drop Soup with Vegetable Stock

Egg Drop Soup with Vegetable Stock 

This is a nutritious soup, warming dish. The actual soup recipe itself is very quick, it is only the stock that takes time so make it in advance if you would like. You could always double the batch of stock and freeze some for a later date. Serve with prawn crackers, if you would like, or add some soy sauce or sesame seed oil over the top for a little extra flavour. Minus the noodles (and perhaps egg or butter), everything can be homegrown – making us feel proud!

(Serves 6)

For the vegetable stock: – 1 large onion – Butter, to sauté – 2 medium sized carrots – 1 garlic clove – A few sprigs of parsley  – 1 litre of boiling water

For the soup: – 400g wholewheat noodles – 1 egg – 100g peas – 100g sweetcorn

  1. Either grate by hand or food process the onion, carrot, garlic and parsley.
  2. In a large frying pan, place the vegetables in the butter. Sauté, stirring from time to time for about 5 minutes until the vegetables have softened.
  3. Add the boiling water and bring the mixture back to the boil before allowing to simmer, uncovered for about ten minutes. Take off the heat. Push the vegetables through a sieve to strain. Use the liquid or freeze straight away.
  4. To make the soup: put the stock into a large pan and bring to the boil along with the noodles, peas and sweetcorn. Turn the flame down to a low heat and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes or until cooked. Add the egg and stir in. Leave to continue simmering for about five minutes.
  5. Serve hot ladled into bowls. I like to top mine with boiled kale too.

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What to do with left over pumpkin?

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For anyone who is debating throwing out their pumpkin after Halloween – stop!

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Start by cutting it up into chunks.

Any seeds you have saved from the inside, pat them dry and follow this recipe:

Pumpkin Seed Crisps – smell and taste like popcorn

– Seeds from a pumpkin – Salt and pepper – Olive oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Scrape out the seeds from the inside of a pumpkin and pat dry with kitchen roll. Place them on a pan and sprinkle salt and pepper generously over the top along with a little olive oil.
  3. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

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For the pumpkin flesh, put the chunks on large roasting trays and drizzle with olive oil. Pop them in the oven at 180C and roast for about 40 minutes or until they are cooked.

Eat them like this alongside other veggies or dishes or use these roasted slices for another recipe…

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Pumpkin Curry

(Serves 4)

– 1 onion, finely sliced – 1 tsp ghee or oil for frying – 1 tbsp mustard seeds – 1tbsp nigella seeds – 1 tbsp fenegreek seeds – 1 handful curry leaves – 1 tsp cumin – 1 tsp ground coriander – 1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric – 1 1/4  tsp ground garam masala – 500g roasted pumpkin – 1 large garlic clove, diced  Rice, chapatti, popadom, naan or a mixture, to serve – Freshly cut coriander and parsley, to serve

  1. Oil a large frying pan. Peel and slice the onion into thin strips and place in the pan. Heat high for a few minutes before turning down to simmer, stirring the onion. Let the onion simmer to a golden brown before adding the mustard seeds, nigella seeds, fenegreek seeds and curry leaves, stirring in the ingredients to combine. Allow the contents of the pan to simmer for a few minutes to absorb the flavours.
  2. Add the other spices: cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and garam masala, quickly followed by the pumpkin.
  3. Add the diced garlic clove, stir in.
  4. Serve hot on its own, with rice, an Indian bread, chutneys and freshly picked herbs from your garden, like parsley or coriander, torn and sprinkled over the top.

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Pumpkin Dahl 

(Serves 4)

– 1 onion, finely sliced – 1 tsp ghee or oil for frying – 1 tbsp mustard seeds – 1tbsp nigella seeds – 1 tbsp fenegreek seeds – 1 handful curry leaves – 1 tsp cumin – 1 tsp ground coriander – 1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric – 1 1/4  tsp ground garam masala – 300-400g roasted and food-processed/ raw, grated pumpkin – 1 large garlic clove, diced – 250g red split lentils -Boiling water from the kettle – Rice, chapatti, popadom, naan or a mixture, to serve – Freshly cut coriander and parsley, to serve

  1. Oil a large frying pan. Peel and slice the onion into thin strips and place in the pan. Heat high for a few minutes before turning down to simmer, stirring the onion. Let the onion simmer to a golden brown before adding the mustard seeds, nigella seeds, fenegreek seeds and curry leaves, stirring in the ingredients to combine. Allow the contents of the pan to simmer for a few minutes to absorb the flavours.
  2. Add the other spices: cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and garam masala, quickly followed by the finely grated pumpkin. Place a pan lid over the top of the frying pan and leave until the pumpkin is slightly cooked. Lift the lid occasionally to stir to encourage the ‘sweating’ of the vegetables.
  3. Add the diced garlic clove, stir in.
  4. Meanwhile, boil a kettle of water. Put the red lentils into a glass or other microwave dish, large enough to hold all of the contents of the Dahl. Scrape the contents of the frying pan into the dish along with the lentils, followed by the boiling water, enough so that it is covering the ingredients. Stir to combine.
  5. Place a lid over the top of the Dahl and microwave for 15 minutes before checking and stirring. If the lentils have absorbed all of the liquid, it is ready. It will probably need around half an hour before this happens. If the lentils look too dry, add a dash of more boiling water.
  6. Serve hot on its own, with rice, an Indian bread, chutneys and freshly picked herbs from your garden, like parsley or coriander, torn and sprinkled over the top.

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Pumpkin Cake with Citrus Cream Cheese Sauce

Originally a River Cottage Veg Patch Cupcake recipe from a free booklet that came in my grandma’s paper. This is the first year I altered it slightly by making it into a Victoria sandwich styled all in one cake rather than individual cupcakes – it was little quicker and 12 pumpkin cupcakes can be hard to shift sometimes. The great thing about this recipe is that you really don’t know that there is pumpkin in it. I didn’t tell my family what the magic ingredient was the first time I made the cupcakes and they could not tell. Even my brother eats it and he is not the most ardent vegetable lover, let along pumpkin lover. Best cake to use a pumpkin in and the cream cheese icing is the perfect compliment. Who knew that citrus and pumpkin were such a lovely match? I also increase the amount of pumpkin…

A little note about the cream cheese sauce/icing: you might want to halve it as I always have too much but I just offer it as an addition as most people like to put extra with their slice. Also, mine never seems to set into icing hence why I have called it ‘sauce’. Looks prettily/spooky when it runs down the sides anyway…

Edit: After reading into it, I now know that the icing insists on using full-fat cream cheese otherwise it doesn’t set. I did use full-fat but very cheap stuff. So if you make this icing, go for full-fat, EXPENSIVE real cream cheese!

(Serves 10)

– 200g self-raising flour -1 tsp baking powder  – 3 medium sized eggs – 175g caster sugar – 300g roasted pumpkin – Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

For the cream cheese filling and topping: – 100g full-fat cream cheese – 25g butter, softened – 170g icing sugar – Finely grated zest of 1 orange

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line two 20cm sandwich tins with baking parchment.
  2. In a food processor, whizz the roasted pumpkin so it is finely grated.
  3. Beat the eggs and sugar together in a large bowl using an electric whisk until the mixture is thick, creamy and pale.
  4. Fold in the flour and baking powder. Scrape the pumpkin out from the food processor and fold in, followed by the lemon zest.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the cake tins evenly and smooth down the surfaces. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until lightly golden and springy to the touch. Insert a cake skewer into the centers to check that they are done. If it leaves clean, they are ready. Leave the cakes to cool in their tins for at least ten minutes before turning them out onto wire racks to cool completely. This is very important as the icing will run if spread on the cakes when they are too hot.
  6. To make the icing: beat the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl using an electric whisk until the mixture is smooth.
  7. Add the icing sugar and zest. Beat until it is very light and creamy. The mixture should be slightly thickened. If it is not, add a little more icing sugar and mix in well. Cover the bowl with a plate or cling-film and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before use. This is also important as it needs to be thickened or it will continue to run off the cake.
  8. Once the cake is completely cool and the icing has been left to chill, turn one cake upside down on a serving plate and spread half of the cream cheese icing over the base. Place the other half of the cake upright on top of the iced sponge. Ice the top of the other half, spreading and smoothing it over the surface carefully.
  9. Serve cut into slices. It should keep for about 3-4 days in an air-tight container.

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Recipe: Jam Roly-Poly

This pudding will be associated with school for most people but a homemade version will rid any melancholy feelings towards the humble Roly-Poly. It was once called ‘Dead Man’s Arm’ because of the look… It makes a fun Halloween story.

Suet can be bought in most shops, including vegetarian suet made from vegetables rather than beef, the one I use. If you can’t get hold of any suet, try freezing a packet of butter and grating off the same amount required in the recipe to replace it. Raspberry is the popular jam most people choose to use but you can of course use any type of jam you like for the filling. My mum once made what we called ‘Fruit Loop Jam’: raspberries, cooking apples, blackberries, rosehips, jostaberries, blackcurrants, rowans, elderberries and goodness knows what else! She cooked it all up and strained it through muslin, like a jelly, before boiling it up and creating a jammy rather than jelly-like consistency. It was a little like a cross between a raspberry jam and bramble jelly, dark in colour and strong in taste. It was a little too overpowering on toast but was absolutely delicious cooked inside this suet pudding. I think you need a strong tasting jam for Roly Poly, I would choose something like blackcurrant or gooseberry over mild tasting jams like strawberry.

So if you make any jams you find too strong for your taste-buds, try using the batch in cooked in a pudding instead and you might create something as wonderful as a Jam Roly-Poly.

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Jam Roly-Poly

(Serves 6)

– 50g butter – 250g self-raising flour – 50g shredded suet (vegetable or beef) – 150ml milk – At least 200g jam of choice

  1. Put a deep roasting tin onto the bottom shelf of the oven, 2/3 full of boiling water. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Tip the butter and flour into a food processor or a large bowl and using an electric whisk, mix until combined. Mix in the suet before pouring in the milk and mixing until the ingredients form a sticky dough (you may need a little more milk if the consistency doesn’t seem right).
  3. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Pat the dough until smooth before rolling it out as flat as you can, until it is a sort of large square shape at 25x25cm big. Leaving a gap along one edge, spread jam thickly all over the surface of the dough. Pick up the opposite edge to the jam-free side and roll the dough up. Pinch the jam-free edge into the dough where it meets and pinch the ends of the roly-poly roughly too, patting top of the wrap gently to smooth it out.
  4. Cut a large piece of foil and gently place the roly-poly in the middle of it. Bring the foil around the pudding and scrunch together along the edges and ends to seal it – do not wrap too tightly as the pudding will puff up while it is cooking.
  5. Lift the foil gently and place it on the rack above the roasting tray in the middle of the oven and leave it to cook for 1 hour. Allow the pudding to sit for five minutes on a wire rack once it has been removed from the oven. Unwrap and thickly slice to serve. It can be left for a long time wrapped in the foil to keep it warm until you are ready for it and it freezes well too. It is traditional to serve it with custard but I prefer mine plain. Others like it with vanilla ice cream or Greek yoghurt and served with clotted cream makes it taste like a warm cream tea!

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Recipe: Mashed Potato, Cheese and Tomato Bake

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Mashed Potato, Cheese and Tomato Bake

(Serves 2) 

For the topping: – 2 large potatoes – 50g butter – A dash of milk or cream – 100g grated cheddar cheese

For the filling: – 2 large tomatoes – 1/2 onion, finely sliced – 1 large garlic clove, finely diced – Butter, for frying

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C.
  2. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Scrub the potatoes and cut them into chunks to boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and leave until the potatoes are cooked through. To test they are done, stick a fork in the middle of a cube – if it slips off the fork without any persuasion easily, then it is cooked. Drain the water into a separate pan for the tomatoes. Put the butter and a dash of milk or cream into the pan and mash. Set aside until ready.
  3. Bring the old potato water to a rolling boil. Dunk the tomatoes, whole, into the pan for a couple of minutes until the skins are ready to peel off. Place them in a bowl and allow to cool before cutting into small pieces.
  4. In a frying pan, melt the butter and fry the onion until golden brown. Add the diced garlic and fry for a couple of minutes.
  5. Put the tomatoes into an ovenproof dish. Scrape the onion and garlic and butter over the top. Cover in mashed potato as the topping followed by the grated cheddar cheese.
  6. Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serve with lots of vegetables, like peas, runner beans, broad beans, carrots, cabbage, kale, sweetcorn, broccoli, cauliflower, courgettes etc.

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