Tarifa Braised Leeks with Peas, Feta and Dill

‘My clothes steamed and dried as the sun grew stronger. The sea shone white, a clean morning freshness after last night’s smoky fires. The rising hills before me went stepping away inland, fiercely shaped under the great blue sky. I nibbled some bread and fruit, rolled my things in a bundle, and washed my head and feet in a spring. Then shouldering my burden, and still avoiding the road, I took a track south-east for Zamora’. This is how the writer Laurie Lee described the first night of his epic walk across 1930s Spain in his book ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’. His was amongst the first ‘grown up’ books that I read and I have never lost the wanderlust he ignited in my imagination; indeed, I have yearned to travel ever since. A decade ago, I found myself living in Andalusía in Southern Spain, close to Tarifa, the southernmost point of the country where the Atlantic crashes into the Mediterranean. It’s a beautiful little town with a tumble of whitewashed buildings all jostling for a clear view of the Mediterranean and the mountains of Morocco beyond. One day, in late Spring, a well-thumbed copy of Lee’s book in my bag, I came across a tiny bar consisting of just four sky blue tables covered with crisp white cloths; I sat down and chatted for a while with the owner. There was no menu, he just rattled off a short list of the dishes of the day in a dialect that I couldn’t understand. The only word I could pick out was ‘puerros’ – leeks – so I went for that and this is the dish that came out of his tiny kitchen served up with a basket of wholemeal pan cateto, a local village bread, and a slice of creamy tortilla with a piquant tomato sauce. His version of the leeks was topped with a super fresh tangy goat’s cheese – Queso de Cabra de Andalucia – from the hills of Cadiz, the like of which I’ve never been able to find in the UK although I have managed to source something similar from La Docta. We talked for quite a long time, he and I, using a mixture of sign language and mime. I showed him my book and we somehow managed to have a conversation about Lee and his stories of war, gastronomy and romance. This recipe is as close as it possibly could be to the dish I ate that day; I enjoyed it then with a glass of Cerveza Alhambra, a craft beer from Granada but it’s particularly lovely served with a glass of bone dry Hidalgo La Gitana manzanilla sherry.

Leeks

Ingredients

4 medium leeks, washed and cut into thick slices.
75ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
75ml vegetable stock
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
150g peas, fresh or frozen
Zest of half an unwaxed lemon
200g crumbly goat’s cheese, preferably Queso de Cabra (you can also use a good quality feta)
1 tbsp dill, roughly chopped

How I make it

Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan. Add the leeks and the garlic. Cook gently over a medium heat for about 10 minutes until they are translucent but not browned.

Add the stock and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer and cover with a lid. Allow the leeks to gently braise for further 10 minutes until they are tender and ready to eat.

Add the peas the lemon zest. Allow everything to heat through and check for seasoning.

Transfer to a serving dish. Crumble the goat’s cheese over the top, drizzle with oil and scatter with the dill.

Please check out my Pantry and Source pages to discover more about the ingredients I use, the brands I love and the places I source them from.

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