I've been meaning to make leeks with vinaigrette since we got back from Paris at the beginning of March. We were primed for a fancy lunch for my great Aunty Suzy's 100th birthday, but selfishly, she got ill and was in hospital on the day. So instead, we all ended up going to a brasserie next to the hospital in the south west of the city. 30 of us. Just outside of the périphérique. Can you imagine sinking so low? We visited her after.We piled straight in at the height of lunchtime, all seated without so much as a Gallic shrug. And while we were split into two tables, we still managed to eat at the same time. The very nice man looking after our table only forgot to bring my citron pressé. Three times. And then he told me they didn't have any more lemons and "how about orange?" I still haven't let go of my disappointment. I can't. I was really looking forward to it.I haven't got a clue what anyone else ate. I dimly remember my main course as something to do with cod. It was a busy place, lively, fun and full of Parisians being Parisian. Doing French stuff like reading poetry and having affairs, all in their lunch break. But it was my starter which I loved and which reminded me of how simple food is often the best. And you can't get much simpler than some leek, cooked until soft and dressed in vinaigrette. Theirs had a touch of cream in it, softening it gently and making it silky smooth. Mine has some finely minced shallot in and I've sprinkled some croutons on top to give a little crunch.Make sure you use fresh and tender leek. Steam them if possible, this dish can end up a little 'leathery' and chewy if you're not careful. Served gently warm or slightly cold, this is an elegant starter with friends for supper or even a light lunch. You can prepare it ahead of time too, one job fewer if you're entertaining.Ingredients for four people1 leek, tough green part removed then sliced lengthwiseA couple of slices of bread. I used some slightly stale pitta I had in the bread bin. Yum1tsp garam masala1tsp fennel seeds1/2 banana shallot, minced2tsp Dijon mustard2tsp tarragon vinegar (or cider vinegar)4tbsp olive oil4tbsp rapeseed oilSalt to seasonMethodSteam the sliced leek for about four minutes then drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking.While the leek is cooking, heat a sauté pan with some olive oil and cut the bread into small cubes.Toast them in the oil until nice and crisp then drain on kitchen paper and toss through with the garam masala and fennel seeds.Make the vinaigrette by mixing the vinegar with the mustard and a pinch of salt, then slowly whisk in the oils to make an emulsion. Loosen it a little with a splash or two of water and mix in the shallot.Toss the leek through with the vinaigrette and divide between four plates, scattering over the croutons and a few more fennel seeds if you like. Finish with another pinch of salt on the leeks.
On Thursday night we went out for my birthday supper at Olivio Carne, the sister to what is pretty much my favourite restaurant in London (Olivio near Victoria station) and I had pasta for the first time in nearly two months. My new rule is that food like that has to be worth it. And it was. A beautiful wild boar pappardelle. I also had plenty of Kate's duck ragù just to help her out.I've been wondering how to recreate one of my favourite dishes, ravioli con burro e salvia without pasta while I've been avoiding carbs. My new rules are that it's fine to occasionally eat what you want, and to not make sugar and wheat part of my daily diet. There seemed, after thinking about it, little point in trying to recreate ravioli, so here's a new dish based on those flavours.Leek is nature's cannelloni. And with this, instead of the traditional sage infused butter, a creamy sauce seemed a good idea. And to keep it dairy and wheat free meant almond milk and tapioca starch, so it's also gluten free. And vegan. And paleo. And Whole 30. It also dances the can-can for you while singing the Nessun Dorma. This should win awards for the most inclusive dish in the world. Unless you are allergic to nuts. Leave them out if you are. Unless you like risk.It's quite straightforward to make, once you get everything together. Just try not to spill double the amount of tapioca you need into the saucepan. This is very upsetting and can lead to a bit of a strop.Ingredients for two people as a starterFor the filling:420g roast butternut squash or pumpkin, diced40g almonds, skin on, chopped a little1 large clove of garlic, smashedA few young thyme sprigs1tbsp shiitake mushroom powder (optional)Pinch of chilli flakesA big squeeze of lemon juicesalt and pepperOlive oilFor the sauce:1 leek, light green part, pushed into tubesA large handful of sage leaves, shredded3tbsp Olive oilThin bits of middle of the leek, finely sliced300ml Almond milk1 1/2tbsp Tapioca starchSaltShredded sage leaves, chopped toasted almonds and dried borage flowers to serve, if you have them on the shelf in a jar and keep wondering what to do with them.MethodRoast the filling ingredients (apart from the lemon juice) at 200c for 25-30 mins, until soft and golden then leave to cool before adding the lemon juice and blitzing until smooth (but not too smooth) in a food processor then put in a bowl. Taste it and adjust the lemon juice and seasoning if necessary.Cut the dark green and white parts off the leek and use for stock. Or, do what I did and forget about them in the back of the fridge then throw them away.Push out the inner tubes of the leek, leaving you with about six of the large outer tubes. Slice the inner ones then sauté them until soft in good olive oil, with sage and then season and transfer to a bowl. Add the almond milk and tapioca to the pan, heat and whisk until you have an emulsion as thick as double cream. Add the leek and sage mixture and leave to infuse for ten minutes before removing the sage stalks and blitzing the sauce in the food processor. If you prefer, you can leave it unblitzed, but I prefer it smooth.Stuff the leek tubes with the filling and cook gently in a little olive oil until soft. Turning occasionally and carefully. Chop some toasted almonds and get the sauce warmed.Put the sauce on plates, top with the leek then sprinkle over the almonds, sage leaves and borage flowers if using. Blowtorch the leek if you're feeling fancy. Finish with a drizzle of excellent olive oil and serve.