Winter leeks work with spicy chickpeas

Mario Batali
Tribune Content Agency

A flavor-packed addition to tons of winter recipes, leeks are wonderful in everything from soups to omelets to pizzas. But I find that too many home cooks hit a few stumbling blocks of intimidation: “They’re filled with dirt!” “Which parts are edible?” “Where do I even begin?”

Yes, leeks obtain grit because they grow so close to the ground. However, it’s actually not difficult to prep them correctly, eliminating all the dirt and leaving only pure, unadulterated leeky-goodness behind. Plus, leeks can do most anything onions, shallots, chives and scallions can do. And in my opinion, during winter months when they’re in their prime, leeks do it even better.

Commonly divided by harvest seasons, winter and summer, leeks most popular in variety this time of year are King Richard and Tadorna. Summer leeks are generally smaller than winter leeks, which are more strongly flavored.

When shopping for leeks at the farmers’ market, look for well-formed whites without any punctures. The dark greens should be healthy-looking, without any fraying or pest damage. Many still contain the roots at the bottom, which is better than when they’re sliced off, often exposing the white flesh.

Since water can turn leeks soft or mushy, do not rinse them when you get home; wait until just before cooking. Also, cooked leeks are very perishable and will only stay fresh for about three days. Do keep in mind that, unlike other allium vegetables, leeks cannot be dried and must be kept chilled. If you end up with more leeks than this recipe calls for, just simmer the greens into a stock and freeze in batches that keep all winter long. Now what’s so scary about that?

Mario Batali is the award-winning chef behind 25 restaurants.

Spicy Chickpeas with Leeks

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1/2 cup

5 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 pound leeks, trimmed, halved lengthwise, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices, and washed well

Maldon or other flaky sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper

2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 to 2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes

Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until soft, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the leeks, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until softened, but not browned, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add 1/3 cup water, cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook gently until the leeks are very soft, about 15 minutes. If necessary, increase the heat to high and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until most of the cooking liquid has evaporated.

Taste the leeks and add additional salt and/or pepper if necessary.

Combine the chickpeas and leeks in a large bowl. Add the remaining olive oil, salt (to taste), and red pepper flakes, tossing vigorously to combine.

Serve, or let stand at room temperature for 1 hour to bring out the flavors. (This dish can be refrigerated for up to three days; bring to room temperature before serving.) Serves 6.

Per serving: 369 calories; 29 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 71 percent calories from fat); 22 g carbohydrates; 7 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 505 mg sodium; 7 g protein; 6 g fiber.