I never enjoyed leek as a vegetable – as opposed to an aromatic – until I ate it in vinaigrette in Paris during my university year abroad.
In a small cafe that was halfway between my studio near Porte Saint-Martin and my best friend’s seventh floor walk-up near the Seine, we both spent our evenings drinking carafes of red wine. and to make our way through the very classic menu: croque-madames with cheese, snails with herbs, eggs with mayonnaise.
The leek vinaigrette was the biggest surprise. The sweet leeks looked plain on the plate – pale, monochromatic, without any herbs or garnishes – but they hit us between the eyes. They were coated in a Dijonnaise vinaigrette so spicy it burned our sinuses; we couldn’t get enough. So we added some more of the mustard pot to the table, then wiped up the oily tablecloths with torn pieces of baguette. It gave us courage for the long walk home through the cold Parisian night.
Back in New York, I tried to make a leek vinaigrette with this much spiciness and pep, but it was hard to match the flavor. The mustard I could get didn’t have the same piercing bite.
Instead, to mimic this hot-and-sweet game, I started pairing silky leeks with other hot condiments and sauces. The salsa verde, with its mix of citrus, chopped herbs and lots of raw garlic, was a perfect partner, balancing the sweetness of the leeks with an invigorating acidity. Leek salsa verde has become a staple in my kitchen, a lively alternative to leek vinaigrette.
In this more substantial variation, leeks and salsa verde are topped with quick-cooking fish fillets.
I particularly like the fluffiness of the white fillets like cod, halibut or hake here, as they can really soak up the complexity and sparkle of the salsa verde. But salmon or tuna would also work, giving the mix more richness.
To make this as weeknight friendly as possible, I roast the fish and leeks together in one pan. As it cooks, the leeks closest to the fillets absorb their liquid, becoming soft and chewy while those near the edges of the pan become pleasantly brown and crispy in spots.
Topped with a salsa verde spiced up with olives, it’s a chewy yet robust dish where those sweet, wintery spring leeks can really shine.
Roasted Fish With Leeks And Salsa Verde With Olives
By Melissa Clark
Yield: 4 servings
Total duration: 30 minutes
For the Fish and Leeks:
- 4 thick white fish fillets, such as cod or halibut (about 1 1/2 pounds total)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 medium leeks, trimmed, white and light green parts halved lengthwise and rinsed well
- extra virgin olive oil
For the olive salsa verde:
- 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pitted Castelvetrano olives
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
- 1 clove garlic, finely grated, minced or pushed through a garlic press
- Large pinch of red pepper flakes, or to taste
- Fine sea or table salt
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Season the fish with salt and pepper and set aside while preparing the leeks.
2. Cut the leeks into matchsticks: Place half a leek, flat side down, on a cutting board and cut in half widthwise. Then cut the pieces lengthwise into thin matchsticks (1/4 inch thick). Repeat with the remaining leeks.
3. Spread the leeks on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle them lightly with oil and a pinch of salt and pepper, and toss to coat well. Spread the leeks to create 4 spaces in the center of the sheet just big enough for the fish fillets, then place the fillets in these open spaces. (Avoid putting the fish on the leeks, which will cook less well if covered.)
4. Drizzle oil over fish. Roast until the fish is opaque and just cooked through but not yet flaky, about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. The leeks surrounding the fish will be soft and silky, while those around the edges of the pan can turn deliciously brown and crispy in spots. If the fish is cooked but you think the leeks need a little more time, transfer the fish to a serving platter, cover with foil to keep warm, and continue to cook the leeks for a few more minutes.
5. While the fish is in the oven, prepare the salsa verde: Using a fine grater, grate 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest into a small bowl. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze 1 tablespoon of juice.
6. Stir in the olives, cilantro, garlic, red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt. Slowly drizzle with oil, stirring to combine. Taste and add more salt, red pepper flakes or another squeeze of lemon, if needed.
7. Arrange the fish on plates and surround with leeks. Top with olive salsa verde.