What's in Season at the Farmers Markets: Leeks and Blood Oranges
The leek, as its aroma so obviously suggests (hover over a pile the next time you go to the market - it's delightful), shares some lineage with garlic and onions. But unlike its cousins, the leek doesn't produce a bulb and instead creates a layered set of thin and tender leaf sheaths that explode into a giant blue-green hand of rubbery fronds up top.
The part of the leek that makes magical vichyssoise, prasso keftedes, and tender leeky latkes (what is it about potatoes and leeks that marry so well?) is the blanched, or etiolated, part of the stalk - achieved by diligently hilling soil, compost, or any other light-blocking substrate, around the base of the leek as it grows, preventing the chlorophyll from developing in the meat of the stalk. Once greened, the flavor of the leek changes and the texture goes from butter tender to stringy leather within two shades. Pick leeks that feel heavy for their size and that have a few good inches of white stalk to work with. And be sure to rinse them thoroughly, as the dirt they grow in can cling to the layers of the stalks.
We're not entirely sure that the vendor we overheard last week necessarily needed to tell the querying customer that blood oranges didn't actually contain blood (I mean come one, we ARE Californians), but the rest of his info was pretty spot on - don't expect citrusy sweetness, do watch your clothes as it'll stain you silly, and revel in its almost berry-like and floral aroma. The Moro variety is the most common and has an almost black deep purple flesh. But a few savvy vendors have the much more flavorful Tarocco on hand. It has a much lighter colored flesh (sometimes called the "half blood") and a very enjoyable and nearly jammy sweetness.