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Leeks are members of the Allium family, sharing their lineage with those other kitchen stalwarts, onions, garlic, and shallots. Asparagus also falls into this family, although in a different genus (Asparagus offiicinalis). The Alliums all share a certain pungency, with garlic and onions being the most potent and leeks and shallots being the sweetest. Chives and spring onions fall somewhere in between.
Leeks, garlic and onions grow best in deep beds of well-drained soil. The addition of compost and sand can help to overcome soil that has a tendency to be heavy or wet. Leeks and spring onions are frost-hardy but leeks need to be planted in the early autumn to allow them plenty of time to grow.
Given their strong flavour when raw, it seems surprising that with long, slow cooking leeks and other alliums sweeten to soft, rich flavours. If you slow-cook a whole head of garlic it emerges as a full-flavoured buttery puree. Roasted garlic is great to use for aioli and in risottos or stirred into meat sauces for added depth. Leeks are milder in taste than onions and like onions make a delicious base for a sauce or stew.
These are some of my favourite recipes for leeks, onions, garlic and shallots:
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