“A cousin of onions and garlic, and yet with a sweeter, more delicate taste, leeks should be on every vegetable gardener’s “to grow” list. Although, last year, the brassicas didn’t do as well as usual, the leeks are living up to their hardy reputation and the kitchen garden is well stocked. They taste delicious with lobster in this recipe of my own design, and the vanilla adds a subtle flavour note that some might not initially recognise”

Lobster-and-leek tarts with salad leaves and a subtle vanilla vinaigrette

Ingredients

425g ready-rolled
puff pastry
1 leek
Olive oil
2 medium-sized lob-
ster tails, cooked
8 sprigs lemon thyme
2 eggs, plus 1 yolk
75ml single cream
50g white bread-crumbs
20g butter
Seasoning

60ml extra-virgin
olive oil
20ml white-wine vinegar
2 drops (literally)
vanilla-bean
paste
100g mixed green
leaves
Salt and ground
white pepper

Method

Pre-heat your oven to 180˚C/350˚F/gas mark 4. Take four shallow, loose-bottomed, 4in fluted tart tins. Roll out the puff pastry and cut circles that will line the bottom and the sides of the tins, with a little extra overhang. Use a fork to prick the base of each tin and then place a piece of baking paper
in each. Fill with baking beans and bake for 15 minutes, after which time, the paper and beans can be removed and the tart tins returned to the oven for a further five minutes.

Wash the leek and slice it almost all the way through vertically and then wash under cold water. Shake off any excess water and slice the leeks into thin pieces horizontally, before frying them in a splash of olive oil until soft.

Remove the tart cases from the oven and allow them to cool slightly. Trim off any excess pastry with a small, sharp knife and divide the cooked leeks between the tart cases. Remove the shell from the lobster and cut each tail into six chunks, then divide them equally among the tart cases. Sprinkle the leaves from half the sprigs of thyme plus the seasoning over them.

In a jug, combine the eggs, yolk and cream. Whisk together well, add seasoning, and pour enough into each tart case so that it’s almost full to the brim. Rub together the breadcrumbs, butter and seasoning and scatter over the top (they’re not intended to cover the surface entirely, but simply to add a little flavoursome texture). Place them back in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Make the vanilla vinaigrette by whisking together the olive oil, white-wine vinegar and vanilla-bean paste. Pour the result over the salad leaves and mix well.

Remove the tarts from the tins, sprinkle the rest of the sprigs of thyme over them and serve warm with the vanilla-dressed salad leaves.

More ways with leeks

Pesto roast chicken on leeks

For a truly delicious roast chicken, place sliced leeks (you can also add carrots and celery) in the bottom of a roasting dish and put your chicken on top before roasting for one hour at 180˚C/350˚F/gas mark 4. After the hour, spread the whole chicken generously with pesto before returning to the oven for a further half hour or until the juices run clear. Make a gravy as you usually would and then strain it (although straining isn’t a must); the leeks will have made the gravy parti-cularly delicious.

Whole roasted leeks

Take six leeks, trim them and discard two layers of the outer leaves. Slice them to the centre vertically and wash under cold running water. Shake off any excess water and then arrange them in an ovenproof dish. Drizzle olive oil and scatter whole, peeled cloves of garlic and thyme leaves over them, plus a splash of white wine. Roast in a moderately hot oven for 30 minutes. Serve with your favourite roasted meat.

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