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Belgian Leek Tart with Aged Goat Cheese (Flamiche Aux Poireaux)

Today I want to talk about one of my favorite things: leeks.
I fell in love with leeks the moment we met, on a cool autumn day back in October 2008. I was preparing to make a flamiche aux poireaux, or Belgian leek tart, from that month’s Bon Appetit. Six large leeks were splayed out on the kitchen table, almost comical in appearance. A tangle of sprout-like roots dangled from the bottom end, curly and jutting like a child with bed-head. At the top, the stalks fanned out like a tiny palm tree. I don’t know why, maybe I just need to get out more, but they looked just like little martians to me. Glue on a pair of craft store googly eyes and a mustache and you’ve got yourself a Muppet from Sesame Street. Thus began my love affair with leeks.
The flavor of leeks is that of a mild, slightly sweet onion, but more bright and sprightly. Sautéed quickly and left still firm and crunchy, they add an herby punch to a dish, much like chives. But with a little more time and almost no more effort, leeks transform into something magical. Thinly sliced and added to a pot with butter, salt, and water, they gently loosen and melt into leek confit.
Impossibly tender and striking the perfect balance between pungent and sweet, this humble concoction has a myriad of uses, from spreading on a toasted baguette to mixing into omelets or folding into a savory quick bread. My favorite still has to be that leek tart, though, eaten on a cold, snowy winter night with a glass of ruby port.
Before I go, let me give a brief plug here for Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, from whom I made my most recent leek purchase. For the past couple of months, they have been coming to my office building in South Portland to sell their produce from a whimsically painted blue and green school bus. The seats inside have been replaced with two long tables, piled high with a huge selection of very reasonably priced fruits and vegetables, such as apples, turnips, butternut squash, tomatoes, and of course, leeks. It was a refreshing change of scenery; no fluorescent lights or vacuum-sealed, pre-cut, pre-washed, fortified, and otherwise modified products. The beets were covered with a dusting of dirt, the radishes’ roots still clung to clumps of soil. Besides growing your own garden, it doesn’t get much fresher than that.

Belgian Leek Tart with Aged Goat Cheese (Flamiche Aux Poireaux)
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s recipe in Bon Appetit, October 2008

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup half and half
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup crumbled aged goat cheese (such as Bûcheron), rind trimmed
1 1/2 cups Leek Confit (see recipe below)

For the crust
In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and cut in with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
Add ice water to mixture one tablespoon at a time, stirring slowly, until the dough begins to hold together. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it’s crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour.
Remove one disc from the refrigerator and allow dough to soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out. Reserve other disc for another use. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

Roll dough out on lightly floured work surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9” tart pan with removable bottom (a 9” pie plate may also be used, but the finished product won’t be as pretty). Press dough onto bottom and up sides. Fold in overhang and press to extend dough 1/2 inch above sides of pan. Line pan with foil and dried beans or pie weights. Bake until dough looks dry and set, about 30 minutes. Remove foil and beans and continue to bake until crust is pale golden, 20 to 25 minutes longer. Remove from oven and cool while preparing filling.

For the filling
In medium bowl, whisk together milk, half and half, egg, egg yolk, and salt. Sprinkle 1/4 cup cheese over bottom of warm crust; spread leek confit over and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Pour milk mixture over. Bake until filling has puffed, is golden in spots, and center looks set, about 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer to rack and let cool slightly. Remove pan sides. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Leek Confit
makes about 2 cups

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
4 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 5 cups)
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Melt butter in large, heavy pot over medium-low heat.
Add leeks and stir to coat.
Stir in water and salt.
Cover pot with tight fitting lid; reduce heat to low.
Cook until leeks are tender, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes.
Uncover, increase heat to medium and cook to evaporate excess liquid, about 5 minutes.

Can be made 1 week ahead. Keep chilled. Rewarm before using.

“Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.” Jim Davis