Come this time of year, you’ll hear people singing the praises of ramps (myself included, love them; recently took a road trip to Hudson, NY, for a ramp festival); which are also referred to as spring onions, ramsons, wild leeks, and wild garlic. Ramps appear for a short window between late April and May, and have a delicious onion-garlic flavor. If you are not one of the very fortunate few who have ramps growing wild on their property (or are in-the-know regarding an undiscovered plot), they tend to be on the expensive side, but are worth a splurge.
Today, I do not wish to draw [more] attention to ramps, but rather to highlight the plain-Jane, cultivated spring leek — readily accessible, inexpensive, and plentiful this time of year. Cultivated leeks may seem boring compared to the elusive, highly sought after ramp; but, after a braise in white wine and butter that renders the leeks tender, caramelized, and sweet, then under the broiler where the freshly grated cheese gets all gooey and browned, maybe, just maybe, you might forget all about ramps.
I first browned the leeks in a combination of olive oil and butter, the latter is a superb grass-fed cow’s milk butter from these guys. The grassy, earthy notes of the butter heighten the flavor of the leeks. As you can see, I have an affinity for cheese, and have accumulated a small collection of odds and ends. I used a combination of Parmigiano Reggiano and Piave (Piave has a nutty flavor profile similar to Parmigiano Reggiano). I urge you to freshly grate the cheese rather than using pre-grated (there’s just no comparison from a flavor standpoint).
The hardest part of preparing this dish is cleaning the leeks. Because leeks grow underground, their layers tend to accumulate a fair amount of dirt. You just need to soak them in cold water and rinse very well. From there, it’s pretty much smooth sailing.
As an aside, I learned today that the bottom part of my (apartment rental) oven is a broiler, and while not strategically placed for the home cook, does in fact work! Am embarrassed to mention that I’ve lived in my apartment for nearly two years and just figured this out. Oh well, you learn something new everyday.
6-7 medium-sized (not too thick) leeks
2 tablespoons butter and/or extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
few springs fresh thyme
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup freshly (finely)-grated cheese (such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Piave, or Pecorino Romano)
Trim the ends and dark green leaves from the leeks. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise. Place the leeks in a bowl of cold water and soak for 10 minutes. Rinse the leeks well to remove any remaining dirt that may be trapped in the layers.
Heat the butter and/or olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Place the leeks in the pan in a single layer, cut side down, and cook until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Using tongs, turn the leeks over and cook on the other side until they are lightly browned, another 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Toss in a few sprigs of thyme. Turn the leeks back over so that the cut side is down.
Preheat the broiler.
Pour in the wine and stir to deglaze the bottom of the pan, then add enough water to just cover the leeks. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes, until the leeks are thoroughly tender when pierced with a knife. Most of the liquid should have evaporated by this time; if not, pour any excess water off.
Sprinkle the cheese over the leeks. Place under the hot broiler until the cheese has melted and is beginning to color. Remove from the heat and serve.