March - Welsh Rabbit

Leeks

Two classic Welsh ingredients transcend their considerable individual appeal when served together in this recipe for Baked Cheese with Wine-Braised Leeks.

The title is more about my conversational style than this month's dedicated Flavour, which contains neither flour nor beer, is enriched with eggs and is posh enough to serve as a starter or savoury for four. It's also complete bliss on toast, relished informally with feet up indoors while your daffs, far from fluttering and dancing in the breeze like Wordsworth's, are bent double against a howling gale and a nasty weather-front off the Irish sea. Nowhere is March more Martian than in West Wales, except possibly North Wales, Mid Wales and South-East Wales.

The first of the month is, of course, the feast of Dewi, our patron saint, and a home-grown one to boot, unlike some of his peripatetic 'British' counterparts. Dewi led a simple, monastic existence, uncomplicated by dragon-slaying or other worldly concerns, and sustained by a diet of bread and herbs. His banning of meat was surely prescient. The one issue I have with him - and it's a big one - is that he was militantly teetotal. I will never forget catching his unavoidably stony eye as he deplored, from his pedestal, a particularly lively Society tasting in Cardiff City Hall. As hostess, I almost felt moved to apologise, not so much to him but to my fellow-members. We are said to 'keep a welcome', after all.

On March 1st, every Welshman the world over is urged to sport a leek, not only in his cap but in his heart too ("gwisg genhinen yn dy gap, a gwisg un yn dy galon"). The ladies and the less butch tend to wimp out with a daffodil, our true historical emblem tending to get a bit whiffy as the day wears on. It's much better suited to cawl, our traditional broth of lamb neck and vegetables, served with bread and cheese. For afternoon tea, a well-tempered bakestone might be greased up to turn five very prosaic ingredients - flour, fat, eggs, sugar and dried fruit - into far more than the sum of their parts. We call them picau ar y maen, or welshcakes. The time-poor can hit Swansea Market and get them hot off the griddle while eyeing up some prime seafood for supper.

Two classic Welsh ingredients that also transcend their considerable individual appeal when served together are good farmhouse cheese and those fragrant leeks. Gratins and tarts we all know about, but for sheer scrumptiousness nothing beats a layer of the latter, slowly cooked until mellow under a molten blanket of the former, spiked with seasonings and enriched with cream.

The key is neither hurrying nor burning the leeks while they develop a sweetness that marries perfectly with the salty, acidic cheese. At home, I use Hafod, Teifi Mature or Llanboidy, and on this side of the Bridge, top-notch Cheddar or Lincolnshire Poacher. Like any other recipe with few ingredients, it pays to invest in the best, and the Mousetrap is best left for the feast of Saint Agatha.

Janet Wynne Evans

BAKED CHEESE WITH WINE-BRAISED LEEKS

  • Serves 4 as a starter
  • 2-3 fine leeks
  • 30g butter
  • a dash of white pepper
  • 50ml fruity white wine
  • 250-300g premium hard cheese with bite, coarsely grated
  • 1 heaped tablespoon crème fraîche
  • 1 heaped teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • a generous grinding of black pepper
  • a pinch of Cayenne pepper (optional)
  • a dash of Worcestershire Sauce
  • 2 medium eggs

Trim the leeks of their roots and dark leaves, leaving the white and very pale green parts. Quarter them vertically and wash well to remove all traces of soil. Realign the quarters of each leek on a chopping board and chop into 2cm/½-inch pieces. Rinse again and shake off as much excess moisture as possible.

Melt the butter in a saucepan on a medium heat and add the leeks. Move them around with a wooden spoon to infuse each piece with butter and to stop them burning. When they begin to soften , season them with the pepper, add the wine and turn the hob to its lowest setting. Cover the pan and leave the leeks to stew very slowly in their buttery, wine-infused juices, which will take at least 15-20 minutes to be absorbed. Check the pan at the merest sizzle to ensure they are not browning and if so, edit out any frazzled bits. When the pan is dry and the leeks soft and squidgy, give them a final stir and set aside. This important step can be done in advance.

Break the eggs, one at a time, into a deep bowl and beat with the cream, pepper, mustard and Worcestershire Sauce. Stir in the cheese gradually, until you have a creamy but firm mixture.

Preheat the oven to 180?C/Gas 5. Divide the leeks between four medium ramekins (about 9cm across the top and 4-5cm deep) and top with the cheese mixture. Bake for 15-20 minutes until pillowy and browned.

Serve with dainty triangles of toasted bread. Of Heaven, naturally.

MATCH OF THE DAY (DRAGONS 3, GEORGE 0)

For the time of year, I'd pour a gutsy red but an aromatic and not-too-dry white will work too. My recommendations are shamelessly contrived, I admit, but they are all tried and tested, and though I appreciate that Katie Jones is not necessarily Welsh, a name like that and wine like hers are too good to resist!

Friendly: Drac Màgic Tempranillo-Garnatxa-Syrah, Catalunya 2011 (ref SP8551, £7.95 )

Premier League: Dragon Langhe Bianco, Luigi Baudano 2012 (ref IT17721, £9.95) or Willowbrook Dragonfly Cabernet Merlot 2012 (ref AU16091, £9.50) but as any serpetologist knows, the Dragonfly is a slightly more delicate creature so go easy on the Cayenne.

Director's Box: Domaine Jones Red, Côtes Catalanes Grenache 2012 (ref FC25541, £11.95)

March 2014

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