Major leekage

Yesterday we pulled the winter vegetables out of the hoophouse and, in a fit of starry-eyed optimism, planted melons.

Yes, my friends, Kevin and I are going to try to grow cantaloupes and watermelons right here on Cape Cod. In our sandy soil, and our humid climate. With a skill set that still has me surprised when my radishes turn out right.

But I’m not here to talk to you about melons. I’m here to talk to you about leeks. I planted a small crop last fall some time, and they are only just now ready to harvest. They are slow leeks indeed.

The leek patch was only about four feet by three, but one of the great things about leeks is that you can plant them close together. If I ever decided to farm for a living (perish the thought!) I would certainly settle on a tall, thin crop because you get so much more from your acreage. This one small patch of leeks yielded an entire bushel.

Well, it was a bushel before the haircut. After the haircut, it was about ten pounds.

Although leeks keep quite well in the refrigerator, I didn’t want to either sacrifice the considerable space they take up or feel pressure to have leeks on the menu every night until they’re gone. So I froze them.

Over the last couple of years I’ve actually gotten pretty good at processing vegetables, so I’m going to puff up my chest and tell you, in my most didactic tone, how to do it.

First, you take a leek.

I know, enough with the leek jokes.

First, you give them a haircut. You have to cut off all the dark green leaves that are inedibly fibrous. But don’t be overzealous and go all high-and-tight. I think people routinely throw away large swaths of leek that are perfectly fine. If you’re not sure where to draw the line, cut off a piece and taste. Imagine it after it’s been poached in butter and white wine. Is it inedibly fibrous?

Keep as much as you can. After all, you grew these things. To throw out edible parts would be a terrible waste.

After the haircut, cut off the hairy part on the end, and give your leeks a thorough washing. Leeks can get very dirty, with little patches of soil hiding under a layer halfway up the damn thing, and the best way to get them clean is to split them lengthwise and rinse.

After the rinsing comes the slicing and for God’s sake break out the Cuisinart and the slicing blade. Slicing ten pounds of leeks by hand will result in a shot afternoon, carpal tunnel syndrome, and suboptimally large slices.

At this point, you can freeze them or, if you’re going all out, vacuum-seal them and then freeze them. But I think that would be a mistake. I’ve always thought that vegetables freeze better if they’re blanched, and I discovered there’s actual, genuine science that backs me up.

If you cook vegetables before you freeze them, not only is there less water in them (and it’s water that expands as it freezes, breaking down cell walls and turning vegetables to much), but they get some of their enzymes inactivated, and will last much longer in the freezer.

But don’t let me catch you blanching the old-fashioned way, with that huge pot of boiling water going on the stove. The microwave is the by far the best tool for this job. Mine gets used for it so often that I have named her Blanche.

All you need to do is put a covered bowl (I use those silicone lids on a Pyrex bowl) full of sliced leeks (or kale, or green beans, or Brussels sprouts) in the microwave, and zap them long enough for them to soften. You don’t need to add water because you just rinsed them and there’s enough water adhering to them to get the job done.

For leeks, in my microwave, four minutes is about right. Experiment until you find the right timing.

Once the leeks are blanched, dump them in a colander to drain and cool. Then pack them into Ziploc freezer bags in portions that make sense for the kind of cooking you do, squeeze the air out, and Bob’s your uncle.

Then go back to the hoophouse, harvest the kale, and start the process all over again.

15 people are having a conversation about “Major leekage

  1. lasst years blanched, vaccuum sealed leeks did not fare well. i was pissed and disappointed. this year, I’ve decided they’re just not the kind of thing you can preserve (though I am thinking of picking some) and am just going to enjoy a bounty of leek soup while I can.

    • Well, that’s not good news, is it? By “did not fare well” do you mean “turned to mush?”

  2. I have frozen leeks successfully. Sure, they are not firm, but for soups and other applications where firmness is not needed, they are great. I never blanch, I just chop and freeze.

    BTW, thank you for pointing out that the green part of the leeks can be tender and delicious. It irks me that so much perfectly edible food is thrown away just because people “don’t use that part.” When I watch cooking shows and they discard the tops and bottoms of bell peppers or don’t scrape out the bowl, I want to jump in my car, drive to the star’s house and give him/her a stern talking to about not wasting food!

  3. Accidental Mick says:

    That hoop house (we would call it a poly-tunnel) has certainly paid off the time and effort you put into building it. I really envy it but our Parish council have banned them because “they spoil the landscape”.

  4. I’ve never tried freezing leeks, but I’ve done it fairly successfully with chopped onions. I think the secret is sauteeing them while still frozen. Slow thawing seems to exacerbate the mush factor, something I first noticed with ginger root.

  5. I have the same problem of needing to clear the leeks in the spring to get the ground dug over, compost spread and the next crop in. I wasn’t over impressed with them blanched and frozen, so have developed the following. I wash and chop the white, solid part into roughly 1/2 – 1 inch chunks and open freeze, bagging once frozen. They come out for poaching or steaming and stirring into a sauce, or tipping into a casserole as they are. The tops are separately washed and chopped, again into 1/2 – 1 inch pieces, open frozen and bagged for soups or stews.

    They probably wouldn’t keep for months and months as they aren’t blanched, but they give me green veg for that ‘hungry gap’ and good bulk for soups and stews until the rest of the garden is cropping with a vengeance.

  6. I’m tempted to go thaw out a bag right now, just so I can see how they did. But I’m a little tired of leeks, if you want to know the truth, so I’ll wait a bit. And then I’ll report back.

    Mick, I can’t believe that. Our hoophouse has drastically improved our landscape, at least in the edibility department. Is a move in order?

  7. It’s so encouraging to read about people who save most of the leek. I had such a bountiful crop that I shared with friends. I was so frustrated to discover that they were cutting it down to the white and discarding all the green. After all my hard work! I think supermarkets sell only the white mostly because of storage and time issues and that’s what people now think is the only edible part. Kudos to Laura about the cooking shows. My husband cooks that way, chops off so much of the onions, that I once diced what he was about to discard and came up with a few tbsp! Not that he learned from that.

  8. Kathryn Barker says:

    Hi. sorry for sticking my oar in 🙂 Your leeks appear to have a very short white section and a long green section. As they grow if you put toilet paper cardboard tubes over them or kitchen roll tubes. they stay white on the inside of the tube so that the green section is much shorter at the top. 🙂

    • I’ve had no problems freezing leeks, although other people have reported that they get mushy. But, in a dip, that’s not going to be problem, so I’d freeze away!

  9. What a great site. I love leeks but never grow them, but buy them at the farmer’s market s sooooo I use as much as possible. If the top leaves are washed clean they are very good frozen as-is until I’m making soup stock. If my stock is too leek-y I make potato soup. I will watch this site in future. Keep up the good info.

  10. Thanks Tamar. Enjoy your sense of humor (first time to the site). Would like to add some peripheral leek experience:
    Last summer here in northern Minnesota was short, cold and wet and many of the leeks were very small. Sooooo……I transplanted them into my greenhouse (four season, gray-water greenhouse kept warm with a LARGE bag of water). They survived November – January then took off again. Just harvesting them now (late May) when they began to show scapes. So the menu includes some leek substitute for garlic scape recipes (yum!) as well as freezing some leeks for the summer–heh. I also grow garlic in the greenhouse that matures a couple months earlier than if outside. Both survive crowding with the kale and arugula I grow in the winter.
    Enjoy your site. Keep them coming.

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