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Dublin: 13 °C Monday 14 October, 2019
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New year, new you. Why not grow your own. First up, Leeks

Each week over the coming year we will be talking about growing, cooking and eating a specific veg.

Michael Kelly Grower

EACH WEEK OVER the coming year we will be talking about growing, cooking and eating a specific veg (yes, there are at least 52 different veg you can grow – who knew?).

We’re kicking off the year with leeks, which are one of my absolute favourite things to grow – they are easy to grow from seed and will stand happily in the ground right through the winter months. You can also grow lots of them in a relatively small space.

Sowing

Leeks are best grown in modules before being transplanted to their final growing position later. They are very easy to grow from seed. Sow one or two seeds per module just 1cm deep (they are a small, black seed). They will take about two weeks to germinate.

For a continuous supply of leeks sow as follows: (1) February – plant out in April, will be ready to eat in early autumn. (2) March – plant out in May, will be ready to eat in early winter. (3) May – plant out in June, will be ready to eat in late winter.

Growing

Leeks are heavy feeders so it’s best to grow them in fertile soil that has been enriched with plenty of farmyard manure or compost. They will be ready to plant out about two months after sowing (when they are pencil thick).

The traditional process of planting leek seedlings is called “puddling in” – it involves making a hole, dropping the leek in and filling the hole with water (and not backfilling with soil). I’ve always thought this feels like torturing the little seedling so I don’t bother with it anymore – instead I just plant them out as you would any seedling.

Leave 15cm between plants and 30cm between rows. Leeks have to be earthed up during the growing season – this process encourages the bleaching or whitening of the stem. If you don’t earth up you will be left with leeks which are predominantly green with just a small amount of edible white stem. Earth up twice during the season.

Harvesting

The best leeks are the small tender ones – they decrease in flavour as they grow larger, so don’t aim to produce prize-winning ones. Lift the leek with a fork – their roots are surprisingly fibrous and strong. Winter varieties can stay in the ground until needed, they are practically indestructible.

Problems

Leek rust is an issue – it’s an airborne fungus that affects all the allium family, particularly garlic. Though the leeks look unattractive when infected, it doesn’t in fact affect the taste at all. You can try cleaning them carefully, but this doesn’t work in my experience. Leeks can also get white rot, which is why you should include them in your allium rotation.

Tips

  1. I’ve heard of GIYers who use kitchen roll inserts to “earth up” leeks – pop the insert over the leek and it does the same job as earthing up. Nice idea.
  2. Be careful not to get soil in to the heart of the leek when earthing up – this can be a nightmare to get out when cooking.

shutterstock_313011122 Source: Shutterstock/bitt24

Recipe of the Week – Leek and Cashel Blue Cheese Tartlet

This Denis Cotter recipe appeared in our book GROW COOK EAT and was originally in his cookbook

Paradiso Seasons. It serves 4.

Ingredients:

  • 150g plain flour
  • a large pinch of salt
  • 75g cold butter
  • 40mls cold water
  • 500g leeks
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives
  • 100g Cashel Blue cheese
  • 400g cherry tomatoes
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Directions:

Sift the flour and salt together, rub in the butter, add the water and form into a dough. Shape it into a ball with your hands, flatten it gently and chill for at least half an hour.

Roll the pastry and cut out circles to fit four small tartlet cases of about 7cm diameter. Prick the pastry cases all over with a fork and chill them again for 30 minutes, then bake them for eight to ten minutes at 180°C/350°F, until crisp. Slice the leeks in half lengthways, and wash them well, then slice them thinly.

Melt the butter in a wide pan and cook the leek and garlic over high heat for about five minutes, until the leeks soften. Add the mustard and chives, and cook for one minute more. Season with salt and pepper.

Fill each pastry case three-quarters full with the leeks, and crumble some blue cheese on top. Bake the tartlets at 180°C/350°F for eight to ten minutes, until the leeks have warmed through and the cheese has melted. Put the cherry tomatoes in a small oven dish and sprinkle with a little olive oil and salt.

Roast in the oven for eight to ten minutes, until softened a little, adding the balsamic vinegar for the last minute of cooking. Spoon a pile of roasted tomatoes in their juice on each plate and place a tartlet on top.

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.

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About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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