Friday, October 26, 2007

Gingerly Handling Ladybugs and Leeks

Within a few days of inhabiting my pad almost three years ago I began to suspect that I had accidentally stumbled into a parallel universe otherwise dubbed the Ladybug Lounge. Forget the insinuating adolescent perk and cheer, I was witnessing unabashed jittery jots pulsating energy to the thrumming bass of invisible subwoofers. I even detected the faint clink of martini glasses. Relatively harmless and a touch surreal this madness carried on for a short time only to be quickly forgotten and resumed again late the following October.

I puzzle over what they might want from me coming year after year, as aphids are their main source of food and I’ve never knowingly entertained any. The first day they appeared in mass numbers, I was amused in dreamy speculation as they gaily freckled the exterior side of my windows before liberally seeping through the cracks. One is delightful, two charming, three a small party…. But when does too much of a welcomed thing tip the scale and become quite another? When man and nature touch what happens in the overlap and why do they huddle about in dark corners?

By the time the bag full of spry leeks arrived I should have been ready, if but a little preoccupied. After all I have waited my entire life to cook with leeks, held off until I cultivated enough refinement to appreciate the pale green delicacy, this relative to the rowdy onion. Seen as little more than an overgrown scallion and with greater than half of it unchewable, steep prices paid seemed more the actions of a fool than a foodie. But with the unexpected gift of Allium porrum, my development in gentility was cut short turning my efforts instead towards highlighting this eternal fresh flavor. But for what special dish, a mere cock-a-leekie soup?

After all look at them! leeks stand proud and stately, bundled tight in weather resistant sheaths of vigorous up shooting greenery. A handsome figure to be sure, they emanate quiet reserved strength. But this tough guy act is rather superficial, roughly one layer deep; which is best wrastled with deftly before tossing it in with the heap of misfits traveling down the cavernous depths of a full and ready stockpot. But never mind that for now, for further on in-- coming closer to the inside a different story is told. Thin cross section slices of a newly vulnerable de-gritted and truncated leek reveal a mesmerizing world of symmetry and grace, a mirror if you will of our many layered selves. And while the chartreuse almost transparent discs have some of the character of fine pristine jewelry, these juicy growth rings also incite feelings of expanding succulent life, of new beginnings.

Rather than treat these leeks to a heavy handed swat of potatoes and cream or a long decadent braise in olive oil, it seemed a different approach might harmonize with leek’s concealed nascent wildness. Influenced by environmental educator and “wild man” Steven Brill, as well as those cheering ladies in red, a turn in tactics also meant leaving well groomed taste behind. For the flavor profile I was looking for emerged from tromping about in brisk weather, smelling damp fallen leaves, and inhaling sharp pungent air. It is the encapsulation of daily life in the fall weeks when everything is sketched in precise thin lines, intentional and wildly alive. Sure things around may be rattling, dying off, and moving out, but there is still seasoned bite and brass to autumn that reminds us of how dynamic each passage of life truly is. Now- what to do about the voles

Sesame Leek Sauce: Adapted from a recipe by Steven Brill. 5 cups.

His ingredient list matched perfectly the flavor I was going for in my head. However this recipe was intended for wild leeks or ramps which possess a more assertive flavor. To rectify the situation, I radically changed the tahini amounts and in the future will diddle some more with it. I did use 2 Tablespoons of chopped ginger which resulted in such a surprise; I was taken aback- since then the pungency has grown on me. I adjusted the recipe somewhat below to reflect what I would do next time. I will say that this is the perfect thing to sling onto just about anything. I was dipping blue chips into it, as well as toasted walnuts. It was just right on a chunk of salmon and terrific on top of buckwheat soba. Also true, while this was cooking up the Asiatic ladybugs were flying about in enthusiastic frenzy. I think they approved.

2 Tblsp toasted sesame oil
3 C cleaned and sliced leeks/ramps/scallion/onion
1 ½ Tblsp chopped ginger root
8 cloves chopped garlic
1 ½ C stock
¼ C white wine
5 Tblsp tahini
2 Tblsp barley miso

Directions: Sauté the leeks, ginger, and garlic in the sesame oil for about 5 minutes until light golden brown and fragrant. Pour the stock and wine in and continue simmering while scraping the pan of its browned bits. Pour into a blender with the tahini and miso and puree until smooth. Serve over grains, fish, tofu, or vegetables.


Monkey Wrangler said...

I once saw ladybugs amassed on some bushes and logs in Redwood park that was pretty cool......but the side of the house, oh my!

I really only knew leeks as a soup form with potatoes, until the past few years when I've been cooking them and using in quiche. This though, dressing style is flat out brilliant.

And, great title!

Lydia said...

I'm laughing, even as I'm picking ladybugs off my desk, my computer, my windows...and my coffee cup! Yes, tis the season, and they are everywhere. It's also the season for leek and potato soup, which is one of my favorites.

Gattina said...

I think my sis-in-law must be your neighour, she also has a mass attack from ladybugs and volves (well, the latters aren't many, but one is enough to frighten to drop...).
Leek, although was readily available in my home country, isn't everyone's favorite. So I was amased to see how my aunt prepared her leek's dish - simply saute with lard and salt. That was very good indeed. Now looking at your leek sauce, I know my aunt and me going to fight for it!

Callipygia said...

monkeywrangler- ooh what about some leek pretzels?

lydia- They are sometimes wild with activity and then dead as little doorknobs, we must both be getting lots of luck!

gattina- Maybe the ladybug-vole combo is a common thing. And you both would be welcomed to share the sauce,it made 5 cups. Perhaps could with voles???

blatta said...

Yea... a post with BONUS art images! I always enjoy your rogue beetle ramblin's and the yin/yang of the leek rendering is...lovely.

Leek though is for me often a disappointment - cooked, mine rarely lives up to the vitality it emanates in the hand. But your sauce sounds quite tasty, and broadly applicable.

Lucy said...

A luscious dish and you were, of course, absloutely right to want the flavour of leeks to shine without being drowned in dairy produce.

Those ladybirds are party girls, but their colouring, their patterning (like your drawing) is so unique that I'm sure they are welcome. I found one, stone cold dead in the refrigerator and nearly cried, so rarely do we see them.

Callipygia said...

blatta- I have a bunch of lady beetles for your collection if you want some. As for being disappointed, I do believe the leek needs to be coaxed, not brutalized or bludgeoned, which truthfully I may have done. More investigation needed.

lucy- the sauce would qualify as great by some & probably "too strong" by those with more conventional tastes. I humbly admit that the stellar taste of the leek was masked somewhat by the ginger (see note above). But I was distracted by the chirpy buzzing of ladybirds. And the thought of the lone dead bug... sad.

sher said...

I love the paintings! And how lucky you are to have all those ladybugs. Here in certain parts of Northern California, people gather them for companies who cater to the backyard grower. I'm told the people who gather them guard the location of special spots where they can find thousands of ladybugs.

The recipe looks wonderful, quite different from the usual leek recipes! I keep planning on growing them, but haven't yet.

Anh said...

I would be scared to see these ladybugs at close proximity! Couldn't even hold my camera at macro mode to shoot! :(

As for the leek, I love your paining a lot. And the sauce sounds absolutely wonderful. I wish I knew this recipe earlier. I got some wild leek a while ago, and had no idea what to do with it. So I just sautéed it with some butter. Tasty indeed!

Callipygia said...

Sher, I've heard they are a gardener's friend. Some folks around here vacuum them up in clean bags and leave them there for the winter to release later!

Anh, I was thinking about the critical mass of ladybugs and when they would go from cute to creepy. Luckily I am not there yet.