I love cooking experiences that take care of several needs simultaneously. In this case, I found myself, once again, with a backlog of leeks. Why do I end up with so many leeks? I think because I am not a good preparer and consumer of wintertime soups. These would enfold my leeks and savor the unique notes they bring to the pot, but whenever I make soup I don’t end up eating most of it, and it rots, and I’m sad. And then on the other hand, leeks aren’t the kind of veggies I like to just steam up and eat alongside some rice and tempeh, so they had started to make a leek mountain in the back of my fridge.
I also had an interesting food challenge to meet. I’m going to be away from home for at least a week, under circumstances where taking care of my own (convoluted and everchanging) food needs might not be able to get my full attention. The hardest meal for me to figure out at other people’s houses is breakfast, because I generally tend to eat leftovers, but I can’t count on finding the right sort of leftovers for breakfast every day at someone else’s house. So what could I make that would be like breakfast, and like leftovers, and maybe also involved a lot of leeks?
I pulled down a huge stack of cookbooks from the shelf, branching out this time past the usual suspects. I combed their indices for mention of leeks. Finally, in a beautiful cookbook called Olive Trees and Honey, one that I love to read but rarely cook from, I found the perfect dish. In addition to my leek backlog, I was also faced with a surplus of eggs, and the minute I saw the recipe I knew the utterly comfort-foodish Sephardic Leek and Cheese Casserole was going to clean out my fridge and set me up with breakfast quite perfectly. I really wanted all those leeks to go to a good home, and I think at last I’ve found one.
Recipe can be found beyond
Sephardic Leek and Cheese Casserole
(from the gorgeous, read-in-bed-fascinating, Jewish vegetarian cookbook, Olive Trees and Honey, by Gil Marks)
There are various cheese options given here, and I happened to go with the saltiest – feta and Muenster – and the casserole was way too salty. If using salty cheeses again, I would omit all additional salt from the recipe, including the salt used to cook the leeks.
1/4 C. olive oil
3 lbs leeks (about 15 medium or 12 large), white and light green parts only, cut into thin lengthwise slices and washed
1 large onion, chopped (optional)
1 C. water
2 t. table salt or 4 t. kosher salt
1 cup (5 oz) crumbled feta, 1 cup (8 oz) farmer or pot cheese, or 1 cup (3 oz) grated kefalotyri or Parmesan cheese, or a combination
1 cup (4 oz) shredded kashkaval, Gouda, Muenster, or Cheddar cheese
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 T. olive oil
About 1/2 t. table salt or 1 t. kosher salt
Ground black pepper to taste or 1/2 t. cayenne
1/4 C. fresh dill or 1/2 t. freshly grated nutmeg (optional) (I used nutmeg)
1. Preheat oven to 350. Oil a 9-inch square or 8×11 inch baking dish. (I used a 9×13 casserole dish and it came out fine)
2. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and the onion, if using. Saute until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the water and 1 1/2 t. table salt or 3 t. kosher salt (see my note, above), cover, and simmer until the leeks are tender, about 15 minutes. Drain.
3. In a large bowl, combine the cheeses, eggs, oil, the remaining 1/2 t. table salt or 1 t. kosher salt (see my note, above), pepper, and, if using, nutmeg or dill. Stir in the leeks.
4. Spoon into the prepared baking dish. Bake until set and golden brown, about 50 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.