By now you have most likely planned your entire Thanksgiving dinner, but even if you have, I’d like to suggest a simple side dish you might want to consider adding to the meal, or taking with you if you’ve been invited to someone else’ s home for dinner. The idea occurred to me as I passed our rather empty gardens and spied several rows of leeks still standing strong and holding their own out in the cold.
Since the earliest days in the Community, it has been our custom to serve the traditional Cape Cod Thanksgiving meal, which always included creamed onions. Then, when our gardens began to produce beautiful leeks we started using them instead. Many people prefer leeks because of their milder and more subtle flavor, and now they have become a “must have” addition to our holiday menu.
If you have never been introduced to leeks cooked in this particular way, they might very well become a favorite with you once you give them a try.
- Rinse leeks well, as soil can often be caught between leaves.
- In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the leeks and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 30 minutes.
- Add the thyme, sage, white pepper, flour and cook, stirring for 2 minutes.
- Add the cream and bring to a boil.
- Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Add sherry, and season with salt.
I grew up in an agrarian area with a mother who appreciated the seasons and food that came with them. We lived next to a highly farmed area. I remember fields stretching as far as the eye could see. Hadley produced mostly tobacco, but also lots of asparagus, and of course butternut squash and apples in their season. Every spring, about this time, my mother would go looking for wild asparagus, since she had noted where the fronds were the previous summer. I think I am a little spoiled, because I have tasted asparagus when it was harvested the same day, and there is nothing like it. We can get asparagus any time of the year now. I love it just blanched, with some butter and salt and pepper. Below is my favorite recipe for soup, which celebrates the intense flavor of the asparagus itself.
- Trim the tips from the asparagus.
- Cut the woody stems ends from each spear and reserve.
- Cut the remaining stalks into 1/2 inch pieces. In a medium pot, bring the stock to a boil.
- Add the woody stems and lower heat to simmer, cook 20 to 30 minutes.
- Remove with a slotted spoon and discard, reserving the stock.
- Add the tips to stock and blanch until tender about 1 minute.
- Remove with a strainer, and plunge directly into an ice water bath.
- Drain on paper towels and reserve for garnish.
- Reserve the stock.
- In a medium stock pot, melt the butter over medium high heat.
- When foamy, add the shallots and leeks, and cook until just tender.
- Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, then add the chopped asparagus stalks and cook, stirring for about 2 minutes.
- Add the reserve broth and simmer until the asparagus are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
- Remove from heat. With an immersion blender, or in batches in a food processor, puree until smooth, adding salt and pepper to taste.
- Return to medium heat and add the half and half and reserved asparagus tips.
- Cook, stirring, until warmed through, about 3 minutes.
The kitchen was really busy last night. Eight of us were buzzing around cooking for an upcoming party. Really great energy. As much as I think I am a person who prefers to be alone, I love the energy of being in the kitchen with a crowd of people. Don’t get me wrong — there is something to cooking alone — being there in the quiet, creating something delicious for someone else to enjoy. It ministers to my spirit, and I sometimes get great ideas and thoughts about other projects. But a group that is working well together, chaotic as it might be, also ministers to the whole group in a way that can’t be duplicated. In the middle of this I was putting together my favorite Beef Mushroom Barley soup for guests and a retreat group the next day. What could be better on a cold rainy day! My brother in law just came through and tasted the soup. He said it needed some red wine, so I added a splash. He was so right!
Mushroom Beef Barley Soup
- Pour boiling water over dried mushrooms to cover, set aside.
- In a large soup pot, saute beef in 1 Tablespoon oil until browned, 5 to 7 minutes, remove from pan.
- In the same pot, with the other Tablespoon of oil, cook your carrots, onions, leeks, celery and baby bella mushrooms until just browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Stir in barley and thyme and cook for another minute.
- Add the beef broth.
- Drain dried mushrooms in a sieve, and add that liquid also to the pot.
- Chop the mushrooms until fine, and add those.
- Toss in the bay leaves.
- Simmer until meat is tender and barley cooked (about an hour for the beef tenders, and longer for the stew meat).
- A little while before serving pour in the wine, and heat again.
- Add kosher salt and ground pepper to taste. This can be made 2 or 3 days in advance — it will taste even better if made ahead.
We leave our leeks in the garden to enjoy through the winter months. I took advantage of the January thaw to pluck a few for inspiration. I love using things up in a creative way, and I remembered that I had a few bags of croutons in the freezer, left over from our “O Antiphon” Party at Christmas, where we had served up a hot cheese dip on hollowed out bread bowls. I immediately thought of a savory bread pudding. I also found some sauteed mushrooms in the freezer — a treasure! So I added a little celery, some eggs and cream, and voila! I had tonight’s side dish for a roast, or today’s lunch with a salad and crusty bread.
Savory Bread Pudding with Leeks and Mushrooms
Savory Bread Pudding With Leeks And Mushrooms
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking dish.
- Melt butter or bacon fat in large skillet over medium high heat.
- Add mushrooms, leeks, celery and saute until soft, about 10 to 12 minutes; add thyme and cook about a minute more until fragrant.
- In a large bowl, mix together bread cubes and vegetable mixture.
- Whisk together heavy cream, eggs, salt and ground pepper in another bowl.
- Mix custard into bread and vegetables, then transfer to prepared baking dish.
- Sprinkle grated cheese over top.
- Bake pudding uncovered until set and top is golden, about 35 to 40 minutes.
I have to confess that I am a cold weather girl. Beach towels on hot sand do not do it for me, but crisp fall days with a north breeze blowing through the trees is what can send me into ecstasies of spirit. I grew up my first few years in Western Massachusetts — hills and valleys, tall trees and loads of fall color, apples, pumpkins…Of course here on the Cape we have our share of fall color, but it is much later, and much more subtle… There is nothing quite like late October sun slanting across a salt marsh — who knew that grass could have that much color! Anyway, back to the present, where we are just experiencing our first hint of fall. The gardens are definitely slowing down. We have pretty much seen the last of the tomatoes, summer squash; still getting some lettuce, beans, eggplant, broccoli, and the first of the leeks. Our leeks this year are really fat and healthy. I love the subtle flavor of leek as compared to onion, and include it in stews and soups, risottos and stuffing’s. I think it is showcased the best though in a vichyssoise. Yes, this is a cold soup, but is also delicious served warm, with a garnish of fresh thyme and parsley, and pretty easy to make!
- In a large pot, heat the butter until foamy.
- Toss in the leeks, stirring to coat.
- Cook for several minutes, until translucent.
- Add the chopped potatoes, stock, and thyme.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
- Cook, partially covered, for 30 to 40 minutes until potatoes are completely cooked through.
- Remove from heat.
- Working in batches, blend in a blender. (With hot liquids only fill one third full, and hold blender top with hand while blending)
- Blend until smooth.
- Add the heavy cream, and add salt to taste, and serve warm.
- Garnish with chopped herbs. If you have any leftover you could enjoy it the next day cold.
- If you have any leftover you could enjoy it the next day cold.