Have you ever watched a leek plant blooming? It is so beautiful. Big globes of tiny white flowers bursting out of pointy hats. My mom used to plant leeks in her garden every year but I don't remember ever eating them out of there. I have a suspicion that she planted them simply because she loved the flowers so much. My dad has continued the tradition. This summer, I spent hours in his garden, staring at those leeks and trying my hand at some time-lapse photography which you will see in the video. On such a chilly November evening, it's nice to reminisce about summer and the garden…
Today's recipe is a leeky and savoury variation on one of my all-time favourite desserts: Tarte Tatin. Tarte Tatin is an upside-down caramelized apple pie. (Yup. Heaven.) I have to admit that I tried making this recipe for you a while back, filmed it all, and when I got to the last step of flipping the damn thing over, it wouldn't budge. I had to pry it out of the pan and it was a total disaster, a giant sloppy mess and I figured I'd better find a solution so that you can make this recipe and trust in a happy ending. I found a solution, made it again last week, but I didn't pack the leeks tightly enough together and it came out all loose and wobbly and still not quite right. Which is frustrating because the first time I ever made it this recipe, many years ago, it turned out just right on the first try. I think maybe the pie got nervous in front of the camera. Anyway, the good thing about having messed it up a few times is I've got some precise instructions so that when you make it it will be perfect. And appropriately, the song in the video is called "recommencer" which means to start over again.
Leek Tatin from Kitchen Vignettes on Vimeo.
I believe I first found this recipe when I was staying with my beloved friend Marion's family in the French alps. Marion's mom is a prolific cook and has the most mouth-watering assortment of French cookbooks. I spent hours at her kitchen table going through them. Talk about a place I'd like to click my ruby slippers and be instantly transported to! My version of the recipe has 2 variations: goat cheese & also honey instead of sugar for the caramel. I'm using Bee Queen's wildflower honey, because well, I'm completely infatuated with this honey at the moment. My roommate got me started, she says she is going through a honey phase and apparently it is highly contagious because guess who polished off a half jar of honey in just 4 days?! (I seriously need to get a grip.) I bought some fresh walnuts in their shells last week and have been cracking them like crazy and dipping the pieces in massive gobs of honey. It's the best snack ever. You've got to try it.
But in the meantime, onwards with upside-down caramelized leek & chèvre pie…
LEEK TATIN WITH CHEVRE
6 large leeks
3/4 cup honey
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
About 150 grams of goat cheese (more if you love goat cheese)
3/4 cup butter
1 2/3 cups flour
pinch of salt
Mix the softened butter with the flour and egg until a soft dough is formed. If too dry, add a tiny sprinkle of water. Roll out and set aside. Cut a piece of parchment paper into a circle to fit into the bottom of a standard pie plate. (Don't worry about the sides of the plate, just make sure it covers the bottom and overlaps on the sides just slightly). Butter the whole pie plate generously including sides, and butter the parchment paper. Place paper in the pie plate, buttered side up. Take off the first layer off the leek stems and clean any dirt away. Steam the leeks for about 10 minutes until they are soft but still maintaining their green colour. Drain and pat dry.
Make the caramel! Heat the honey in a pan on medium-low heat until it bubbles and starts to turn brown (but not burnt), around 10 minutes. Add the vinegar and stir vigorously. Put a few drops of the caramel in a bit of cold water to make sure the caramel hardens a bit (not into a hard ball but into a soft lump). If it just dissolves, keep cooking it longer. Immediately pour into the pie plate. (Do NOT spill on your fingers, it WILL hurt!) Cut the leeks into 1.5 cm pieces, keeping an eye out for dirt between the layers (the greener & higher up the stem you go, the more dirt there may be, so don't be afraid to peel off the first layers and use only the middle part. Sandy leeks can really ruin this recipe). Arrange the leek pieces cut side up on top of the caramel. Make sure they are packed nice and tight. Now roll out your goat cheese to make a large round shape. I find shaping it into a ball, sandwiching it between parchment paper and rolling it out works well. Don't worry if it's not a perfect circle. So long as it loosely fits over the leeks. Now roll out your pie dough and place on top of the cheese and leeks. Tuck in around the edges of the circle so that they tucked up tight and squishing right into the caramel. (Those bits of pie crust that sponge up the caramel are the yummiest).
Bake in a 350 F oven for around 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately place a plate on top of the pie and flip carefully. You can drizzle any leftover caramel and leek bits & crumbled goat cheese if you want to decorate. My friend Sacha made this pie (see comments below) and she suggests broiling the pie for a few minutes once it's flipped to crisp up the tops of the leeks which I think is a brilliant idea! I'll be doing that next time I make it.