Lovely Leeks Make Stews and Soups Taste Like Spring

This week’s From the Farmer’s Table celebrates the lowly leek, symbol of Wales, and mild member of the alliaceae family. The variable early March weather makes this the perfect time to prepare broth and hearty soups.

A traditional Welsh leek cawl (pronounced “cowl”) provides a lighter alternative to the more familiar leek and potato soup. Heartier lamb and vegetable cawl provides a full, satisfying repast, and can be served as a single course or a two course meal consisting of broth followed by stew.
As you are choosing your leeks from the bundles and individual leeks for sale at the Tuesday Culver City Farmer’s Market, keep in mind that the thicker leeks have a more pronounced taste, as they are older. Even the mature leeks are milder than most onions, and all leeks lack the sharp bite of their minature cousins, scallions (green onions).

Welsh Leek Soup

Cawn Cennin
(serves 6-8)
4 slices of bacon (best with traditional bacon, not apple-wood smoked or maple flavored)
6 thick leeks, thoroughly washed, trimmed of the roots and dark green, then chopped
10 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 thinly sliced leek (white and light green part, only) as garnish
Sauté bacon over medium heat until crisp in large soup pot. Remove bacon, drain on paper towels, crumble and reserve for the garnish. Reheat bacon grease over medium heat and stir in the chopped leeks. Stir frequently to coat thoroughly and saute until golden in color. Pour in the stock, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Purée, solids first, then pour back into the pot. Season to taste. Serve hot and garnish with reserved crumbled bacon and thinly sliced leek circles.

Lamb Cawl

(serves 4-6)
2-3 lb. lamb (traditional Welsh recipes call for the best end of neck cutlets; you can substitute bony shoulder or breast cuts if neck pieces are unavailable)
1 large sliced onion
1 leeks, washed, light green and white parts only, roughly chopp
2 medium sliced carrots
2 medium parsnip
2 small white turnips
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
6 small white potatoes,or 3-4 large ones (do not use baking potatoes as they will not retain their firmness)
salt and pepper
4 pints (8 cups) water
1 leek, washed, light green and white parts only, finely chopped

Trim fat off meat, cover with cold water, add salt and pepper, bring to the boil, and simmer slowly for a minimum of one hour. You can simmer it for up to three hours. Take off heat. Leave it to get cold (or refrigerate overnight), then skim off all the fat. Prepare vegetables while stock is cooling. Since this will be served as a stew, you can cut them into 1-2” dice. Debone meat. When stock is degreased, add onion, two leeks, carrots, parsnips, turnips, and one tablespoon parsley. Cover and simmer very slowly for an hour. Then add potatoes and continue to simmer for another 20 minutes. Add third leek (finally chopped ) and remaining tablespoon of parsley. Season to taste. Cook another five minutes and serve hot. Put in all the vegetables except 1 leek, the potatoes and half the parsley, cover and simmer very slowly for 1 hour, then add the potatoes cut in half and continue cooking for 20 minutes. Then add the remainder of the parsley, taste for seasoning and finely chop the remaining leek (green and white part) on top. Let cook for 5 minutes and serve. Some families treat their cawl it as a French pot-au-feu – that is, they serve the clear broth first, then the meat and vegetables as a second course.
(Recipe adopted from traditional family recipes found at BBC and BBC Mid-Wales websites.)

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