Another Way to Cook Leeks
Well matured leeks are boiled with a pinch of salt in water and oil… Wrap the leeks well in cabbage leaves… They are then stewed in oil and in the best kind of broth, and served.
One of the hallmarks of Apicius is the series of recipes all featuring the same ingredient. The recipe you see above is actually a combination of two recipes, one for boiled leeks (porros) and one for the cabbage-wrapped leeks, titles simply “Another Way to Cook Leeks” (I assume aliter means “another”). There are two more recipes following this one in the book, one cooked with “berries” and one with beans, but all three are titled Aliter Pollos.
I started with the leeks, though I can’t confirm that they were “well matured.” I prepped them the way Jacques Pepin recommends, which is cutting away the dark green parts of the stalk, exposing the tender green interior as you ascend the leek. Then I sliced them in half and washed them well (leeks get a lot of dirt and sand in between the layers). Here they are, ready to go:
I dropped them into some boiling salted water, and let them go until just soft. In the meantime, I peeled the outer leaves off of a cabbage (which I tossed), and then peeled some of the tender green leaves. I cut out the hard core on each leaf, and then blanched them in some boiling salted water, to soften them up. After a minute or two of boiling, I removed them from the boiling water and rinsed them in cold water, then dried them and spread them out on a plate.
The leeks were just about ready at that point, so I removed them from their pot and rinsed them in cold water as well. Before wrapping them, I decided to work on the broth portion of the dish. As I mentioned in my first Apician attempt, broth or liquamen can be “any kind of culinary liquid,” but because this recipe called for the “best kind of broth” I decided to interpret it literally. I decided that the best broth I had was the water I had boiled the leeks in, which smelled delicious. I mixed it with a bit of the water I had boiled the cabbage with, added a little carrot, a little celery, a few leaves of lovage (a delicious herb mentioned several times in Apicius) and some salt and pepper. I turned the heat up and let the mixture concentrate in flavor as it reduced.
On to the wrapping. I cut the leeks into chucks about three inches long, and wrapped them tightly in the dried cabbage leaves. I lay them seam-side down on a plate as I worked. I made sure the entire package was dry, and then moved on to the next step: stewing in oil and broth.
First I heated some olive oil in a pan, and then lay the wrapped bundles into the warm oil. I let them brown a bit on the one side, and then added the broth, which I had strained to get rid of the large chunks of vegetables. I let it cook for quite a while, like this:
By the way, I had some boiled leeks left over, so I ate them on their own (basically the first leek recipe) and they were great, just boiled in salted water. Anyway, as the wraps stewed I let the remainder of the broth reduce even farther, to create a sauce. When the bundles were nice and soft I removed them from the pan, and topped them with the reduced broth.
The result was pretty good, it definitely tasted like more than just leeks and cabbage. The leeks had a great texture and a sweet, onion-y flavor, while the cabbage retained a slight bitter tone. I don’t know that I’d ever make it again, but it was definitely good.
Warning! Many of the recipes in Apicius are listed as having laxative properties, and although this is not one with that label, it certainly did the trick on me.
Posted by Howard