By Elaina Asselin

Leeks are usually thought of as a late summer and fall vegetable. Certain varieties of leeks, however, overwinter and are great to have in the garden for an early spring crop. Once known as poor man’s asparagus, braised leeks are an excellent complement to a fresh asparagus salad.

These creamed leeks have many uses other than as a filling for tarts.They can be spread on croutons or pizza or served with smoked salmon or trout. They can also be added to a risotto or pasta and make a lovely filling for omelettes.

Makes 18 mini or 12 standard-sized tarts

PARMIGIANO PEPPER PASTRY

1 1/2 cups all-purpose organic flour
3 oz Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, finely
grated
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
1 large egg
1 1/2 tbsp water

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cheese, pepper and salt. Using a pastry blender or your fingertips, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture. Using a fork, lightly toss the mixture until the liquid is evenly distributed.

Using your hands, bring the dough together into a ball.Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Rest the pastry for an hour to relax the gluten.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to a thickness of 1/8-inch. Using a drinking glass or cookie cutter, cut out the size required to fit your tart shells.

Line all of the tart shells and place on a tray. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 1 hour.

Lightly prick the bottoms of the tart crusts with a fork.

Bake in a 375° F oven until lightly browned, about 20-25 minutes. The time will vary depending on the size of tart shells you are using.

CREAMED LEEKS

4 medium leeks
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more if needed
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup whipping (35%) cream
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, lightly chopped
2 tbsp fresh tarragon, lightly chopped

Trim the leeks by pulling off tough outer layers. With winter leeks you will have to pull off many more layers than may seem correct. Cut off the root end. Slice theleeks lengthwise down the middle.Wash each layer thoroughly under cold running water; drain well. Slice the leeks crosswise into 1/4-inch half-moons.

In a large sauté pan or skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the leeks, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally until softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Stir in the wine, increase the heat to high, and cook until almost no liquid remains. Stir in the cream and continue to reduce slowly until the leek mixture is creamy but not dry. Stir in the parsley and tarragon.

Fill the pre-baked tart shells evenly with the warm, creamy leeks.Top with fig jam and prosciutto, if desired.

Serve immediately.

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