Stone Soup is an ongoing quarantine feature in which I come up with a recipe that uses the impossible thing in your cupboard, without making you go to the store or wasting any of your ingredients. Yesterday, we figured out how to keep beans exciting.
What do I do with leeks? I have two of them, one rather large and the other about half its size. I don't think I've ever eaten leeks, but I was curious.
I also have onions, potatoes, 2 Meyer lemons (also new to me), chicken broth, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste, milk, about 1/2 lb small pasta shells, most of a jar of pesto, lots of dry spices including garlic powder, some dried herbs, and various spice blends, and various pantry staples. Also about a pint of Brussels sprouts, some fresh greens, and a lot of cheese-feta crumbles, canned Parmesan, and sliced Cheddar, Swiss, and Muenster.
I’m bumping this all the way up to RIGHT NOW because (a) I want Catherine to be able to use those leeks while they’re good, and (b) I fucking love leeks. They’re sweet and delicate and they look like cartoon vegetables. The latter is a big selling point for me.
Let’s find our way to making a
This isn’t going to be a true gratin because I don’t know how many potatoes Catherine has, I don’t want to make anyone make their first bechamel today, and I’m not about to assume anyone has a gratin dish. Bastard dishes are my favorite, because they demand no respect: they don’t have to be perfect, just delicious.
This is going to be a lot of text, but it’s easier than it sounds. Scroll to the bottom for the condensed version of the recipe. Go boldy. Onward!!
Step One: All the Prep. Leeks aren’t finicky, but they are filthy. They’re made of layers and layers of leaves, like an open-topped onion, and they’re full of mess. Cut your leeks in half lengthwise, then soak them in a big bowl or pot of water while you do the rest of your prep.
Wash some potatoes. How many potatoes, you ask? I don’t know, how many do you feel like eating? The final dish will keep in the fridge okay for a couple of days. Use your best judgment. Probably don’t use more than, like, 3 yukon gold potatoes, or a pound and a half of little red, new, or fingerling potatoes. Either way, give them a rinse and scrub, then slice them thin (about 1/4”, or as close as you can get with a good sharp knife). You can drop them into water if you want to, but I’ll be honest, I don’t know why people do that. Follow your star.
Smash a couple of cloves of garlic if you’ve got ‘em.
Okay, now back to the leeks. Take them out of their bath and give them a thorough rinse under running water to get rid of any leftover grit. People will tell you that you can’t eat the green part of leeks because it’s “too tough.” Those people are cowards. You’re rich with courage. Stand firm. Your hour is nigh. Separate the green section of leek from the white. Cut both into 1” sections, but keep them separate, because you’ll be cooking them a little differently.
Step One and a half: Potato Jacuzzi. Fill a big pot of water, drop in a fistful of salt, and get it boiling. Once you see bubbles, drop in the sliced potatoes. They’ll want 10-15 minutes of cook time, with a very rare stir.
Step Two: Pan time. While the potatoes are boiling, heat a biiiiig pan over medium-high heat. Put a chunk of butter or a big glug of olive oil in there. Drop in the green leeks. Hit ‘em with salt and black pepper, stir to coat. When they get fragrant, pour in enough chicken broth to just make them float, about a cup. Here’s where you add the smashed garlic, if you have it.
Once the chicken broth has boiled down enough that you’re thinking “oh no, should I add more liquid to this?”, add in the white leeks. Add another cup of chicken broth, and squeeze half a lemon in there. (Save that lemon rind to use in sauces, to flavor the water you use to cook pasta or beans, to shove into a fish that’s cooking, or to zest for baking.) Stir this all occasionally while that chicken broth cooks down. When the broth is gone, keep stirring for another minute or so, until the leeks are starting to get a caramelly-brown look to them, then take them off the heat, remove them from the pan, and set them aside. Don’t wash that pan, but don’t leave it on the heat either. Put it on a cool burner until you’re ready for the next step.
Step Three: The Return of the Tates. Drain the potatoes gently as you can, preferably, by liftin them out of the water with a slotted spoon and depositing them into a colander like they’re babies. Give them a minute to cool off.
Now, put the leek-pan back on the stove. Add another glug of olive oil to it and give it a little stir with your spatula to loosen up any Leek Bits that are clinging. Now, lay the potato slices in the pan in as thin a layer as you can. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper for sure, and if you have them, garlic powder, paprika, and thyme. Give the potatoes a couple of minutes to brown, then flip them. It’s okay to do this in batches, depending on how big your pan is — just watch that nothing is smoking. As you remove potatoes from the pan, put them in the bottom of a well-buttered 9x9 baking dish, a smallish casserole dish, or a pie tin. Don’t fret if they’re ugly, this is a bastard dish.
Step Four: Pan Sauce. Once all the potatoes are out of the pan, throw a tablespoon of butter in there. Let it melt, then sprinkle a tablespoon of flour in. Stir them together for about a minute, until you see a nice relaxing tan color in the pan. Look, you made a roux! That was easy.
Now, add more chicken broth — at least an inch of it. Also add more thyme and more black pepper. (I never add salt when I’m reducing broth or stock, because they often end up very salty on their own.) This is also a good place to add a splash of white wine, if you’ve got it. Whisk whisk whisk, so there are no lumps in the pan. Once it’s reduced to a nice velvety thickness, take the pan off the heat entirely. Stir for another minute. Now slowly, slowly, slowly drizzle in a half-cup of milk, whisking hard the entire time to prevent the heat from curdling the milk.
Step Five: Layering. Put that cheese to use! Of the options given, I’d probably use muenster and feta, but you can use all those cheeses if you want to. Go nuts. Cover the potatoes with a sparse layer of cheese, then put the leeks on top of that. Add more cheese. Now pour the pan sauce you made over everything.
If your pantry staples include breadcrumbs, season 1/2C of them with salt, pepper, thyme, and some of that canned parmesan, and stir in a few glugs of olive oil. If you don’t have breadcrumbs, just sprinkle some of the canned parmesan over the top of everything. This is a dish for bastardry. We don’t need to be finicky.
Step Six: Broiler. Toss that dish under your broiler for 5-10 minutes, until the top looks golden-brown and delicious. Let it cool for 5 minutes before serving. The result should be a flavorful, creamy potato mess with caramelly leeks and sharp cheeses abounding.
Just the recipe:
- Halve, soak, and wash your leeks. Trim off the very ends, then separate the white section from the green and cut all into 1” sections. Wash and slice some potatoes 1/4”. Smash some garlic.
- Boil potatoes in salted water, 10-15 minutes or until tender. Then remove from water gently.
- Cook green leek sections in butter or oil until fragrant. Add 1C chicken broth and stir. When chicken broth is cooked mostly down, add white leeks plus the juice of half a lemon. Cook until liquid is gone and leeks are starting to brown, then remove from heat and set aside.
- Add more oil to the same pan you used for the leeks. Add potato slices to the pan in a single layer. Season with salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, thyme. Cook until browned on one side, then flip. Cook in batches if necessary. When cooked, add potatoes to the bottom of a buttered 9x9 pan, casserole dish, or pie tin.
- Melt 1 tbsp butter in the pan, then sprinkle in 1 tbsp flour. Stir together over heat until tan. Whisk in 1 C chicken broth and some white wine. Reduce to thicken, then remove from heat and whisk in .5C milk.
- Layer cheeses of your choice over the potatoes, then add leeks, then add more cheese. Pour pan sauce over all that mess. Top with seasoned breadcrumbs mixed with olive oil. Broil until golden-brown. Cool 5 minutes before serving.
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