Mashed potatoes are one of my favorite indulgences and when mixed with the sweetness of caramelized leeks, what could be better?
Ramps, known as wild leeks, are everywhere at this time of the year and they certainly can be used in place of the leeks. But I would reduce the amount by one-third, because the ramp, while a cousin of the leek, is from the boisterous, assertive side of the family.
Leeks are much more timid and sweeter and they are native to Mediterranean countries where they have been enjoyed for thousands of years.
Whenever I see slender leeks (more tender than the bigger, grown-up ones) with crisp, bright-green tops, they somehow always end up in my market basket. You see, leeks are extremely versatile. You can roast, poach, sauté, stir-fry or add to soups, stews, risotto, roasts, stuffing and mashed potatoes, as in the recipe below.
Don’t throw away the inedible, green leafy tops as they can be used to infuse flavor to stocks and soups as part of a bouquet garni. Or blanch them and wrap them around a pork tenderloin or fish to add a hit of flavor, as well as to protect the meat or fish from drying out on the grill.
The most important thing to do with leeks is to wash them thoroughly because they tend to be riddled with dirt that gets trapped between the leek’s many layers.
To wash, trim off the dark green parts (save for another use) and trim the root ends, then slice or chop the white and pale green parts. Add to a bowl of cold water and swish them around. Let stand a couple of minutes to allow the dirt to settle and then scoop out the chopped bits that have floated to the top, discarding the sandy water in the bowl.
To wash leeks that are not chopped but halved lengthwise, simply rinse under cold running water while separating the layers with your fingers to allow the dirt to rinse out.
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Caramelized Leek Mashed Potatoes
Serves 1 or 2
1/2 pound Yukon gold potatoes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sliced, cleaned leeks
1/4 to 1/3 cup milk
1 to 2 teaspoons Dijon or whole grain mustard
Salt and pepper
- Peel and cut potatoes into wedges. Add to a medium saucepan with 2 inches of water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer until fork-tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and transfer back to saucepan.
- While potatoes are cooking, heat butter in a small skillet over moderate heat; add leeks and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl along with the cooked and drained potatoes, and mash with ¼ cup milk and mustard until almost smooth, adding additional milk if necessary. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Stir-ins and variations:
- Cooked, crumbled bacon
- Crumbled goat cheese
- Prepared horseradish
- Cooked peas
- Fresh chopped herbs, such as dill, chives or tarragon
- Replace the milk with buttermilk, cream or sour cream
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