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Leeks are the perfectly ‘unusual’ side dish for any occasion

BY JUDITH DUNBAR HINES | FOR THE SUN-TIMES

If you are looking for a simple and slightly unusual side dish for holiday meals, I am ready to share one of my favorites.

Leeks are a highly underused member of the onion family, usually only seen in a soup or taking a minor role in a braised stew. We use them rarely and seem to think they are somehow an exotic and mysterious vegetable.

Yet they are inexpensive, sweet and flavorful on their own and deserve to play a starring role in winter menus. The French seem to know best in this case, braising a pan full of leeks in wine (see recipe below) and serving them at room temperature in late summer, or slightly warm along side roast meats any time of year.

Leeks are grown in profusion locally, where they enjoy sandy soil and cool weather. Unfortunately, they often bring some of that sand into the kitchen, which means they need a really good rinse under the tap once they are cut in half along the length. Cut off the tough dark green tops (those are fine for using in stocks), cut off any long roots, but keep the stalk attached at the root end.

Maybe you have some wine left from an earlier party at this time of year — use it to make a quick vinaigrette and drizzle over the leeks. One of the benefits of this dish is that it can stand around waiting until there is time and room in the oven, and they wait patiently after baking before serving, as cooling to warm room temperature actually improves the flavor. So prep them, set them aside, and then add them to your dinner table with a French flourish — a scatter of minced parsley is all they need at the last minute.

LOCAL ATTRACTION features the best of regional produce and products and hopes home cooks will do the same. Judith Dunbar Hines is a cooking teacher, tour guide, writer and culinary consultant in Chicago. Visit http://www.judithdunbarhines.com.

ROASTED DRUNKEN LEEKS

4 – 6 medium leeks, well washed, trimmed and sliced in half lengthwise

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

½ cup olive oil

½ cup white wine

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons finely minced parsley

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Oil a 9 x 13 roasting pan with sides. Lay leeks in crossways and sprinkle well with salt and pepper.

Make a vinaigrette by combining oil, wine, garlic and mustard. Drizzle leeks with about half of the mixture.

Roast for 20 minutes, then pour remaining vinaigrette over leeks and roast for 10 – 20 minutes more or until the leeks are tender.

Serve leeks warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with parsley.