Masterchef finalist creates recipes around this great British staple…
The evenings are getting darker, the winter chill is setting in, and afternoons spent sipping cider in the sun have been replaced by afternoons spent sipping cups of tea in front of the telly. But never fear, for this is when comfort food takes centre stage. Hearty, wholesome, nourishing, hug-in-a-bowl dishes are what this season is all about.
One of the most versatile ingredients in abundance at this time of year is the humble British leek. Budget-friendly, jam-packed with nutrients and with a deliciously delicate flavour, leeks can be enjoyed raw, roasted, baked or stir-fried – however you jolly well like, really – and will be at their best from November until April.
Hoping to inspire home cooks to take full advantage of the leek season, Masterchef finalist Larkin Cen has created exciting new recipes that showcase this all-rounder of an ingredient at its best. Larkin impressed judges and viewers alike with his inventive creations on this year’s show, and has added his trademark international twist to the recipes to prove that leeks can be used to make so much more than soup (although I have to admit I’m partial to a bowl of leek and potato on occasion). Here are a couple of my favourite of Larkin’s recipes – you can also find more recipes and ideas on the British Leeks website.
Larkin Cen’s Cheese and Leek Croquettes
Preparation time: 30-45 minutes
Cooking time: 30-45 minutes
What you’ll need
1 tbsp olive oil
1 British leek, washed and finely chopped, remove tough outer leaves
500g floury potatoes such as Maris Piper or King Edward, peeled and cut into chunks
60g Cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and black pepper for seasoning
60g plain flour
150g panko breadcrumbs
1 bottle vegetable oil, for deep frying
In a frying pan over a low heat, sweat the leek with a splash of olive oil for about five minutes until tender. Set aside to cool.
Boil the potatoes in a large pan of salted water for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender; drain. Return to the pan, and mash until smooth. Add the leeks, one egg, cheese, and parsley and mix together with a wooden spoon until it comes together. Season with salt and black pepper. Stir thoroughly. Chill for at least an hour to firm.
Spread the flour over a flat tray, and lightly beat the remaining two eggs in a shallow bowl. Put the breadcrumbs on a separate plate. Roll the chilled mixture into 12 balls of equal sized cylinders. Gently roll the croquettes in the flour, then dip each one in the beaten egg, and lastly coat in the breadcrumbs.
Heat the oil to 150°C in a large saucepan or deep fat fryer. Test the temperature by dropping in a few breadcrumbs – if they sizzle nicely the heat is at the correct temperature, but if they turn black quickly, turn the heat down. Deep-fry the croquettes for five minutes until golden brown. Cook in batches and serve immediately.
Larkin Cen’s Lemony Chicken, Leek and Pancetta Spaghetti Carbonara
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
2 egg yolks
100ml single cream
Finely grated zest and juice of 2 unwaxed lemons
60g Parmesan, grated
Splash of olive oil, for frying
300g chicken breasts, cut into strips
50g smoked pancetta, diced
1British leek, washed and finely sliced, tough outer leaves removed
50ml hot water
Salt and black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon thyme, optional.
For the carbonara sauce, put the egg yolks, cream, the juice of the two lemons and half the Parmesan into a mixing jug and mix together with a fork.
Heat a large frying pan, add a splash of olive oil and fry the chicken and pancetta until golden and cooked through. Lower the heat to medium and add the leeks to the pan, and fry until they have softened slightly but are still a vibrant green colour.
Cook the spaghetti until it is al dente and drain it. Immediately toss the pasta in the pan with the leeks, chicken and pancetta, then remove from the heat and add 50ml of hot water and the carbonara sauce to the pasta and stir together. Season with salt and black pepper. To serve, grate the lemon peel onto the top of the pasta with the rest of the Parmesan and the lemon thyme.