In the past few years, since started my urban garden, I’ve learned so much by trial-and-error. I’ve learned about micro-climates and properly spacing vegetables. I discovered how to spur Brussels sprouts to grow larger, and that my raspberry bush has two fruiting cycles a year – once in the early summer and again in the autumn. And I’ve learned that I can’t start seeds indoors.
When I began gardening, I tried starting tomatoes, basil and peppers indoors in early March with hopes of transplanting them outside as soon as the soil warmed up. I know that starting plants from seeds is far more economical than buying seedlings. I get more options in what varieties I want to grow. And I have less concern about an unsuspecting blight. Unfortunately, I’ve never succeeded in getting a single plant into the ground that was started indoors.
I’m not sure what my problem is…. Did they not get enough sun or too much? Did they get enough fertilizer? Or too much? Some years they did get enough water. I’ve given up.
So I only plant vegetables that can be direct-sowed or purchased as seedlings ready to transplant. This year, that included leeks – a surprise find at a random nursery.
I was a little suspect of the plant – dozens of threads shot out of the 2” pot. Given my propensity to sow seeds too densely, I sensed this would be a problem. When I got home, I tried to tease apart the seedlings, but the root structure was already a tangled mess. I managed to gently pull apart enough to plant 3 rows. The seedlings drooped and flopped, and were still too close together. I propped them up with mounds of soil and gave them plenty of water.
By some miracle, they survived. Still too densely planted, the leeks didn’t grow as large as they should. As I harvest, I try to cut out the larger ones without disturbing the smaller one – hoping to give them a little more room to grow. So far, I’ve cut out over a dozen leeks, and the remaining still look strong.
Try as I might to get out of my rut of simply cooking leeks in butter, I just can’t do it. They are too delicious. I changed it up a little the other night by using them as a base for potato crusted black bass with a red wine reduction. It’s a riff on a recipe from Daniel Boulud.
Potato Crusted Black Bass with Leeks and Red Wine
2 russet potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
4 black bass filets
¼ cup plain oil
1 ½ cups red wine
1 cup rich chicken stock.
¼ cup heavy cream
Salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste
1. Shred potatoes. Soak in cold water for 10 minutes to remove excess starch. This will also prevent the potatoes from turning black.
2. Trim the leeks: cut off the dark green and set aside for another use. Cut the leek in half lengthwise, then into 1/2” slices. Soak in cold water to remove the dirt. Lift the leeks out of the water
3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the butter and the leeks. Cook, stirring occasionally until the leeks are soft. Set aside.
4. Drain potatoes from the water. Season with salt and pepper and toss in flour.
5. On a clean work surface, lay out some potato in a thin layer. Place the fish on top, season with salt and pepper. Wrap the potato shreds around the fish. Repeat with remaining fish and potatoes.
6. Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add the oil. Gently place the fish in the oil, and cook until potato is golden brown and crispy. Gently flip the fish over, and cook for 2 minutes more.
7. Remove fish from pan and set aside. Working quickly to hold onto the heat in the pan, drain off all the excess oil. Add a spoonful of the leeks (and a few mushrooms if you happen to have a few wilting in the fridge like I did). Add the wine and chicken stock and reduce by half over high heat.
8. Stir in the cream into the sauce. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and lemon juice
9. Put a mound of leeks on the bottom of each plate. Lay the fish on top. Spoon sauce around the fish.