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Roots : Braising the Leek

February 25, 1993|MARIE SIMMONS | Simmons is the author of the "Light Touch Cookbook" (Chapters Publishing).

I recently returned from Paris with leeks on my mind. During my trip I ate leeks vinaigrette at room temperature as a first course, and warm, tender leeks as a side dish. I admired them at every vegetable market I passed--standing tall and proud, all uniformly sized in handsome wooden crates.

But the memory that lingers most vividly is of the leeks I saw nestled in a shopping cart full of foodstuffs, obviously destined for a home kitchen and some lucky soul's dinner plate.

Once I was back home I immediately hurried out to buy leeks. I braised them with lemon and thyme and had a meal that almost fooled me into thinking I'd never left Paris.

Serve these leeks at room temperature as part of a first course of assorted vegetables, splashed with a little lemon juice or mild vinegar. Or serve them warm as a side dish. They pair up beautifully with simple sauteed turkey cutlets with red-wine vinegar sauce. End the meal in the French style, combining slices of sweet winter pears with fat walnut halves.

Leeks are sometimes very sandy. Make sure to rinse them thoroughly in several changes of water. If they are large, partially slit each leek so the rinse water can reach between the leaves; this will also hasten cooking time.

OVEN-BRAISED LEEKS WITH LEMON AND THYME 4 medium leeks (white part only), rinsed in warm and cold water 1 tablespoon olive oil or 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium chicken broth 1 sprig fresh thyme or dash dried Lemon juice or vinegar, optional 1 strip lemon zest, twisted

Arrange leeks in 1 layer in baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with thyme. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees until leeks are fork-tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

Serve warm as side dish or cool, splashed with little lemon juice and garnished with lemon twist, as first course or salad. Makes 4 servings.

You can use a mild olive oil instead of butter to saute the turkey and shallot, but the sauce needs the sweetness of butter for a smooth texture and subtle flavor.

TURKEY CUTLETS WITH RED WINE VINEGAR SAUCE 1 to 1 1/4 pounds thin turkey cutlets Salt Freshly ground pepper 1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon or 1/2 teaspoon dried 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot 2 to 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium chicken broth 2 to 3 tablespoons good-quality mild red wine vinegar Few sprigs fresh tarragon, optional

Season cutlets to taste on both sides with salt, pepper and tarragon. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in large non-stick skillet over medium heat until sizzling. Add cutlets and cook until lightly browned on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to platter and cover with foil to keep warm.

Add shallot to pan drippings and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add chicken broth and vinegar and heat to boiling. Boil, stirring with wooden spoon, until liquid is slightly reduced. Add any juices from platter and boil again. Remove skillet from heat.

Cut remaining 1 tablespoon butter into small pieces and stir into skillet just until melted and sauce is smooth. Drizzle over turkey cutlets. Garnish with fresh tarragon sprigs and serve at once. Makes 4 servings.

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