Ingredient of the week: the leek

An essential ingredient in any stock pot, the leek is a huge giver of flavour and an under-rated and under-used veg.

A member of the allium family, the similarities it shares with its relatives, onions, spring onions and garlic are obvious - base flavours that add a rich depth to all manner of dishes - soups, stews and Thai salads to name a few.

The leek has been a part of the human diet for approximately 4000 years - with examples found dried in Ancient Egypt. Nero cited the vegetable as one of his favourites.

We should also not forget its role as national symbol of Wales. Myth holds that King Cadwaladr of Gwynedd ordered his soldiers to wear a leek in their helmet to identify them from the Saxons in a battle that took place in a leek field.

Whatever their origins, one of our favourite ways to serve a leek is a simple bake - clean the leeks under running water to rid them of dirt and then finely shred them into an oven proof dish or pan. Pour over some seasoned double cream (adding a little cheese, if you like) and bake for 20-30 minutes until golden and bubbling. A delicious and dead easy side for your Sunday lunch.

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