Leeks are in season – they’re available and best eaten November until April – but the ones I’ve seen in the supermarket have been so ridiculously expensive, I haven’t been able to bring myself to buy any. What on earth is this all about? Once £4.99 for 3 large leeks. But then I saw a nice bunch (4 good-sized organic leeks) in Sainsbury’s for £2 and that seemed a bargain. So I bought them. I thought I’d make soup. Now winter is coming, albeit slowly, I’ve taken to often eating soup for lunch and it’s nice to have a selection of homemade soups, packaged up in single portions, waiting in my freezer. But then I remembered that my son, Jonathan, who gets a weekly delivery of seasonal vegetables and fruits delivered to his house by Abel & Cole, had told me he likes making leek risotto. Well, I’ve made a lot of risottos – as regularly readers of the blog will know – in my time, but never with leeks. How do you make it, I asked him. Do you cook the leeks separately to the rice and mix in at the end? No, he said, he cooks it all together. And when I explored the internet a bit and looked at what others do, that seemed to be the general method. Why make extra washing-up, I thought. Throw it all together. So I did.
As I was cooking just for myself, I picked out the nicest looking leek and turned the other three, with some carrots, into a soup at lunchtime. Come evening, I halved my saved leek lengthwise and then finely sliced it. In a saucepan, I heated about a tablespoon of olive oil and an equal amount of butter. I usually use mainly olive oil in my cooking but leeks call for butter, I think.
Once they’d nicely softened – but not browned – I add half a cup of risotto rice and turned it until all the rice was well coated. Then I add a good glug of white wine and let it all bubble up until the wine was absorbed.
I’d thought about whether I should add anything else, perhaps some herbs, but decided to keep things simple and just celebrate the lovely flavour of leeks. Leeks and ham are a common match but in honour of the Italian theme (even if this isn’t an ‘Italian’ recipe) with the ‘risotto’ I thought I’d use prosciutto, not English ham (I rarely, anyway, eat English ham). And while at first I thought I’d add strips to the risotto, I went off the idea, keeping with that ‘pure leek’ idea and decided to crisp up the prosciutto and lay it on top of the finished risotto.
I finished off the risotto by adding chicken stock (from my freezer; not a nasty cube!) slowly, stirring frequently to get that nice creamy texture. When the rice was cooked al dente, I turned the heat off, added a lump of butter and a little freshly grated Parmesan and put the lid on. Then I prepared the crispy prosciutto. I’d thought of grilling it; in recipes I looked at, cooking slices in the oven for about 15 minutes seemed a popular method; but I didn’t want to heat up the oven for 2 slices of prosciutto. Instead, I put 2 very thin slices into a dry, non-stick frying pan and cooked over a medium heat, turning very carefully halfway through.
Once done and crisping up, I transferred to drain on some kitchen towel. Then I stirred the melted butter and Parmesan into the waiting risotto and transferred to a serving dish. I laid the crispy prosciutto carefully on top and grated over a little more Parmesan.
I served it with a simple salad of baby leaves and mixed heritage tomatoes on the side. It was all so simple but really delicious. The reason, of course, that leeks go so well with ham (a classic combination) or, in this case, prosciutto, is the perfect match of the sweet leeks with the salty ham. I thought it worked really well to keep the tastes separate though: the soft, creamy leek risotto and the crisp, salty ham; a great combination but each retaining its own identity. Gorgeous! So easily made; so wonderfully enjoyed!