One of my favourite English writer-cooks is Simon Hopkinson whose hand is equally deft with words as with ingredients. I recently acquired his Roast Chicken and Other Stories, merely 25 years or so past its first publication date. It is still fresh and charming…and still in print.
One reads Hopkinson’s books for pleasure, unlike some which are strictly recipe books, even if occasionally padded out with extraneous words. That’s not to say cooking will not follow and tonight we had one of his summer vegetable dishes, Leek Vinaigrette. I happened to find his recipe online in a column he wrote in the nineties. It is much the same as it appears in the book.
Leeks vinaigrette, serves 4
This is a dressing you will get used to making – a little more oil here, a little more water there, until it seems just right. The quantity here is more than you are going to need. Fret not. Put it in a screw-top jar in the fridge and it will keep for a few weeks – remove from the fridge about half an hour before using it. I find this creamy vinaigrette very versatile and it is particularly good on hot vegetables, particularly potatoes served with a Continental boiling sausage.
- 8 large leeks, trimmed and sliced into 2.5 cm/ 1″ lengths and thoroughly washed. Or you could use 16 smaller ones and leave them whole
- 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 300-450ml/ 12-34 pint groundnut or other flavourless oil
- 2 hard-boiled eggs
- 1 tbsp chopped chives
- black pepper
Boil the leeks in plenty of salted water. When they are done (just slightly less cooked than in the previous recipe), lift them out carefully with a slotted spoon and neatly put to drain on a tea towel.
While the leeks are cooling, make the dressing. Put the mustard, vinegar and salt in a blender with 4-5 tablespoons of warm water. Switch on and blend. With the motor running, add the oil in a thin stream until homogenised. If you think the dressing is too thick, add a little more water; if too thin, add more oil and perhaps a smidgen more mustard. The final consistency should be one of loose salad cream.
Arrange the leeks attractively in a suitable dish and spoon over the vinaigrette. Scatter with grated egg and chives, grind a little pepper over and serve with crusty bread. This dish is also good when served warm, and topped with a poached egg instead.
To Hopkinson’s words, I will add that the book doesn’t mention the idea of warm, though it sounds delightful for the colder weather. And as for ‘just slightly less cooked than in the previous recipe’, this is a reference to:
…cook for between five and ten minutes, depending on how thick your leeks are; test with a small, sharp knife for tenderness. You don’t want crunchy leeks, but neither do you want sloppy ones. Drain carefully in a colander for a good ten minutes to ensure that all the water has drained away.
I confess, I didn’t have my usual neutral grapeseed oil to hand, so I used olive oil instead and we found that fine. I made a half quantity for 8 leeks, and still had half of it left. When I went to grate the eggs, I found, upon taking them out of the fridge, that I’d managed to make cold soft-boiled eggs. Grating was impossible, instead they were sort of inelegantly scooped and slopped onto the leeks. You can imagine what the photo would look like.
A fine addition to a summer menu, the leeks can be cooked a day or two ahead and the vinaigrette can be done any time, it takes a few minutes to make.