Leekfest 2010

Oh, you guys. Don't get sick. Just don't. It screws everything up. Including writing about insane cooking projects you endeavor upon with your friends.

Leekfest 2010 was one of those endeavors. It began innocently enough, when my friend mentioned she was confounded by leeks.

9:46 AM Sarah: in the meantime, i feel you should devote some blog space this week to leeks. me: I can certainly facilitate that. You clearly understand my obsession with things in the onion family. Anything in particular?9:47 AMSarah: i feel like everyone just wants to use them in soupbut they also sort of confuse me, because i only use them in soup, or i saute them with other vegetables or put them in scrambled eggs.and that is it. me: I see. So you want something that is leek-centric. Sarah: yes.
This led to my casually mentioning that there had been a few leek projects batting around in my brain. Which led to my not so casually insisting that she and her roommate come to our place for leekstravaganza and cocktails. Most hungry people don't refuse offers like this. Sarah is a hungry person.

So... you guys, we went a little bit crazy. Sarah's lovely roommate brought a bunch of cheeses and assorted snacks (this is how you endear yourself to me, people), including a batch of her homemade strawberry jam that made both my sidekick and I coo gratefully. We snacked and caught up while we let the leeks sweat and blanch and generally get ready to fulfill their life purpose.

We started with Molly from Orangette's Leeks Vinaigrette, which were probably one of the most delicate and soothing things to come out of my kitchen for some time. I'm just... not great at subtlety, you guys, so when someone shares a recipe with me that forces me into it, I really appreciate it.

While I began tackling the leek bread pudding that was to serve as our main course, my Sidekick treated us all to Jamie Oliver's creamy white beans with leeks. This is, I kid you not, one of my favorite things on the planet.

This dish is comforting, creamy, rich with white wine and thyme and quite literally one of the reasons I became the Sidekick's wife. Boys, girls, learn how to cook this. It is very easy and will knock the socks off anyone you make it for.

Then it was time for the main event, Thomas Keller's leek bread pudding. I've made this a few times, each were great. I've messed with the proportions a bit and I usually end up using more cheese and less cream than the recipe suggests. Whatever you do, just be prepared for the fact that this recipe will take you longer than you think it will. Some of Thomas Keller's extra steps always seem unnecessary to me, but I take them anyway, because I trust that he loves me and wants me to be happy. He does. And I am.

This is akin to the best, butteriest, creamiest stuffing you've ever had. In fact, I made it for Thanksgiving this year in place of stuffing. Here's the greatest thing about it: it just gets better the next day. And the day after. And is appropriate for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Dear hulking mass of leek bread pudding, I love you. xoxo, Rebecca.

Leek Bread Pudding 
adapted (only slightly) from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home

2 cups 1/2-inch-thick slices leeks (white and light green parts only)
Kosher salt
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
12 cups 1-inch cubes crustless Brioche or Pullman sandwich loaf
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
3 large eggs
3 cups whole milk (I usually end up using two. Three is SO much.)
3 cups heavy cream
Freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups shredded Gruyere and Emmentaler

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Clean the leek rounds scrupulously. Set a medium pan over medium-high heat, drain the leeks and add them to the pan. Season with salt and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. As the leeks begin to soften, lower the heat to medium-low. The leeks will release liquid. Stir in the butter to emulsify, and season with pepper to taste. Cover the pan with a parchment lid (I KNOW. So fussy, but just do it, it's worth it.), and cook, stirring every 10 minutes until the leeks are very soft, 30 to 35 minutes. If at any point the butter breaks or looks oily, stir in about a tablespoon of water to re-emulsify the sauce.

Remove and discard the parchment lid.

Meanwhile, spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan about halfway through, until dry and pale gold. Transfer to a large bowl. Leave the oven on.

Add the leeks to the bread and toss well, then add the chives and thyme.

Lightly whisk the eggs in another large bowl. Whisk in the milk, cream, a generous pinch of salt, pepper to taste, and a pinch of nutmeg.

Sprinkle 1/4 of the cheese in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Spread half the leeks and croutons in the pan and sprinkle with another 1/4 of the cheese. Scatter the remaining leeks and croutons over and top with another 1/4 of the cheese. Pour in enough of the custard mixture to cover the bread and press gently on the bread so it soaks in the milk. Let soak for a few minutes.

Add the remaining custard, allowing some of the soaked cubes of bread to protrude. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 of the cheese on top and sprinkle with salt.

Bake for 1 - 1 1/2 hours, or until the pudding feels set and the top is brown and bubbling.

Impress your friends and send them home stuffed to the gills!

1 comment:

  1. Leeks (poireaux) were totally everywhere in Paris ('tis the season). They are also awesome in a stir fry. I haev some in my fridge right now!