Leeks are the princesses of the onion family—thin, mild-mannered, and elegant. Fresh leeks are available pretty much year round in the supermarket but those are expensive and often disappointingly bland. If you are fortunate enough to find them at your local farmers’ market do not pass them by! They pair nicely with scallops because neither overwhelms the delicacy of the other. For this recipe I braise them with a bit of butter in the classic French style and serve them with simply sautéed scallops. Accompany with fresh whole wax beans and sweet red pepper for a colorful plate.
½ pound bay scallops, thawed in a bowl of cold water if frozen
4 medium leeks, about ½ pound trimmed
4 ounces yellow wax beans, stem end snapped off but left whole
1 small red Anaheim or other sweet pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Trim the roots and the tough green leaves from the leeks. (Don’t discard the leaves, they are great in stock.) Slit the leeks in half lengthwise and carefully wash any dirt out of them. Cut them to the length of a flame-proof baking dish, put in the dish, add water to half cover, dot with about 1 tablespoon of butter, sprinkle with a bit of salt, and cover. Put over low heat and steam gently for about 30 minutes. When done pour off any remaining cooking liquid and reserve.
Char the pepper under a very hot broiler or, more conveniently, with a plumber’s torch. Wrap in a kitchen towel for a few minutes until cool enough to handle then rub off the skin with your fingers or the towel. Cut in half lengthwise, remove the seeds and stem, and cut into strips the length and width of the beans. Set aside.
Bring well-salted water to a boil in a large pot with a perforated insert. Add the beans and cook for 4 minutes. While the beans are cooking prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. When the beans are done, drain, and plunge them into the ice water to stop the cooking. Drain again and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 325° (300° for convection). Put a bit of the reserved braising liquid into the baking dish with the leeks, cover with aluminum foil, and bake in the oven while preparing the rest of the meal, about 15 minutes.
Heat 2 frying pans over medium-high heat. Add about 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil to one and 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter to the other. Put half the garlic into each and cook for a minute being careful it does not burn. Put the scallops into the pan with the butter then the beans and peppers into the one with the olive oil. Sauté, tossing the contents of each pan alternatingly until done. Add the lemon juice to the scallops.
Remove the leeks from the oven and serve topped with the scallops and accompanied by the beans and peppers. Save any leftover braising liquid to add to stock.