Grilled Leeks Catalan Style

Escalavada

One of my first cookbooks, Irving Davis’s A Catalan Cookery Book: A Collection of Impossible Recipes, was printed the year I bought it in Paris in 1968. Only 165 copies were printed, so it could not have turned out to be very influential, but it was for me. It gripped me then as totally as it does now.

During my first years at Chez Panisse, I relied a lot on this book for inspiration, and from it I developed the recipe for rabbit with prunes—a dish falling culinarily somewhere between Normandy and Spain, and for which this leek dish would be a wonderful accompaniment.

Escalavada means “braise” in the original meaning of the word, or to cook on glowing wood fire embers. Davis cooks the vegetables right on the embers, and when they are cooked, scrapes off the burnt skin, chops them all up, and serves them with olive oil, salt, and chopped garlic. My saucing the leeks is taking an American liberty.

I must stress that you should use wood or real charcoal in the fire, not briquets, and that the sauce can be made in a mortar, food processor, or chopped by hand and mixed into the liquid ingredients, but never in a blender.

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Ingredients

  • 8 leeks, trimmed to 4 inches of green leaves, slit at the top, washed
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
  • 8 leaves bergamot (genus Monardia), or fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon orange flower water
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup herb flowers

Sauce

  • 3 salted anchovies
  • 6 whole almonds, skinned, lightly toasted
  • 1 ripe tomato, grilled, skinned, seeded, chopped
  • ½ tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 3 leaves fresh mint
  • 2 tablespoons medium sweet sherry
  • ½ ounce bittersweet chocolate (one 1-inch square)
  • 1 small almond biscotti

Method

Cook the leeks in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. To make the marinade, mix together the oil, garlic, bergamot (or oregano), orange flower water, and wine. Drain the leeks well and while still hot put them on a platter and pour the marinade over them. Set them aside for 1 hour, turning them twice.

Wipe the marinade off the leeks into a bowl. Add the marinade left in the leek dish, and put the leeks back in the dish. Add the sauce ingredients to the marinade in the bowl, mix together, and grind in a mortar or food processor until a coarse paste is formed.

Season the leeks and grill over a low fire until tender. When the leeks are cooked, put them on a platter and spread the sauce over them. Garnish the dish with the herb flowers.

Variation

This sauce is good on any grilled vegetables, but especially those in the onion family.