It's nice to keep a few things stashed in the refrigerator for last-minute entertaining emergencies and enhancements. I like to keep feta cheese on hand, for instance, because it lasts longer than most cheeses and offers a nice salty, cheesy punch to any salad, be it grain or lettuce-based. Another favorite is leek confit, a simple, satiny sauté of leeks that will perk up sandwiches or be the starting point of a simple soup or quiche. Read on for a recipe and a few suggestions.
How to Make Leek Confit
I lied. There is no recipe because I never use a recipe for my leek confit. You really don't need one. Simply slice up your leeks (only the white and pale green parts) into moons, wash them well and put them in a frying pan with some neutral oil. It's OK that they are still damp as the water will steam and help to soften the leeks. Keep the flame down low, add a few pinches of salt and gently cook the leeks until the are completely soft and wilted. Add a few tablespoons of water as needed to keep the leeks from frying too hard but be sure to cook all the liquid off so the leeks form a nice, jam-like mass in the end. The larger rings of the leek moons will be like ribbons and the smaller rings will concentrate into little buttons. Both are desirable. If you want a touch more richness (and who doesn't?) melt in a knob of butter at the end of cooking.
How to Store Leek Confit
Store your leek confit in a jar in your refrigerator. It will keep quite a while, at least a few weeks, but I'd be surprised if it lasts that long. You can further its deliciousness by adding flavorings such as thyme or caraway but I like to leave it plain to keep my options as open as possible. Its uses are endless. Here are just a few:
How to Use Leek Confit
• Make a quick quiche using a store-bought pie crust or use your own homemade if there's time. Spread the leek confit on the bottom, sprinkle on some diced ham (or not) and cheese (the aforementioned feta is good here) and pour on the classic quiche mixture of 2 eggs beaten with 2 cups of milk (or 1/2&1/2 or cream if that works for you) and bake in a 350 degree oven until set.
• Heat up some chicken broth, add the leeks and poach a chicken breast in the gently simmering mixture. When the chicken is done, remove breast, shred the meat and return to the broth. Taste and adjust seasonings. This can be done as a vegetarian soup, too, with vegetable stock and poached vegetables such as carrots and potatoes.
• Stir it into rice and other grains as an instant pilaf; serve it as an accompaniment on a cheese tray; spread it on bread as the beginnings of a sandwich; tuck into an omelet; dollop on top of a baked potato; stir into sour cream or creme fraiche, sprinkle with smoked paprika and serve as a dip.
(Image: Dana Velden)