Thursday, April 10, 2008

Tulips and Leeks

Alas, I cannot grow leeks in my home garden as last year the fiendish resident moles found my tender leeklings and chew their hearts out. I should have anticipated this, as I had the same situation happen with tulip bulbs some years ago and both plants are members of the Liliaceae (Lily) Family. I had planted many dollars worth of classy Spring bulbs in pleasing oval pattern in our front lawn, which I had forgotten was rather boggy in the Spring.

The result was a bunch of waterlogged bulbs that rotted in the ground, except for an especially hardy cluster of snowdrops which arrive each April in the center of our lawn and cluster of tulips which I unearthed and relocated to a higher, drier patch of flower bed. The next year the tulips rose up out of the ground and had just started to open up their brilliant red petals when they mysteriously shrunk downward about four inches. I inspected this anti-gravity growing and was dismayed to find that the tulip bulbs were entirely munched away, leaving only green shafts in their wake.

In a spate of horticultural amnesia I snapped up some wispy leek seedlings last year to plant in a deep, heavily composted trench that I had carefully prepared. The young leeks prospered but did not live long in this bed, as the moles sniffed them out and rampaged about a month before harvest time.

Since our family still has lots of leek love, I am forced to buy them from others and recently we dined on a delicious and gluten-free Leek and Potato Gratin. I am also working on a recipe for mole en casserole.


(This recipe is adapted from several leek and potato gratin recipes from my cookbook collection, minus the cream sauces)

3 large leeks, white and tender green parts sliced
Olive oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
6 potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. rosemary
1 cup gluten-free bread crumbs (homemade is preferable, but I used Organ brand crumbs, which resemble Panko-style crumbs)
1 cup gluten-free vegetable stock (again, homemade is preferable, but if you use a store brand, do inspect the label carefully as many brands stick in wheat flour or wheat-based flavorings)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Carefully wash leeks, as they grow in hilled, sandy soil (in mole-free zones) and there is usually lots of grit stuck between the leaves.

Steam leeks in boiling salted water for 5 minutes, until soft. Toss with salt and pepper to taste and dress with 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil.

Toss sliced potatoes in another bowl with salt and pepper to taste, rosemary, thyme, garlic and another couple of Tbsp. of olive oil.

Mix bread crumbs and grated cheese in a third small bowl.

Butter or lightly oil a 2-quart baking dish. Layer in half of potato mixture, then add your leeks, then top with remaining potato mixture. Pour vegetable stock over all and then crown with cheese-crumb mixture.

Cover with foil and bake 1 hour. Uncover and bake 1/2 more to brown the crumbs.

Serves 6.

If you are fortunate enough to live in an area where another Tulip and Leek Cousin grows, the Wild Ramp, do gather some up and report back to me on their lusciousness. I am quite smitten already with the reportage over at Ontario's Edible Tulip Blog on rummaging for ramps.

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