Fall Planting Comes Good and The Last Soup Post for a While

garlic-sprout
We planted most of our garlic, onions and leeks way back in October (last year), just a few weeks before the first hard frost. Now, after a long winter of waiting, the fall planting is finally coming good. The garlic and onions are thriving and last week we transplanted leeks that we’d originally put out over six months ago.

garlic-emerge

Fall planting the allium family (garlic, onion, shallot and leek) is pretty much tradition around here. Most members need a month or more underground to break dormancy and establish roots before even thinking about generating shoots. Fall planing provides that time. Fall planted garlic and onions get a solid month or more to establish before “real” winter shuts them down. Then when spring comes, they’re fully established ¬†and able to emerge very early. At more southernly latitude, growers get the same result by putting garlic and onions in around February. But up here in our northernly clime, we can’t go that route because our soil is rock-hard, frozen in February.

We grow our onions and leeks from seed, in soil blocks with four seeds per block. (For bunch onion we seed eight to twelve seeds per block but that’s a different post.) Onions are then transplanted on a 12-inch, square grid. The luxurious space between blocks allows the onions to spread out and reach full size despite their originally dense spacing. For leeks we plant on an eight inch grid which likewise allows for prodigious growth despite the initially heavy seeding. After transplanting our onions and leeks in October, we mulch four to six-inches deep with aged straw and erect a quick hoop over the bed. We only open the hoop to water three or four times a winter. Come spring we break down the hoop, scrape off the mulch and with the onions we just wait for harvest. With the leeks we take one more step.

cut-leek

For years leeks were a huge pain in my @$$. We’d plant them one seed per block, drop them in on a 4×6 grid and spend all summer mounding soil up around their stalks to get a nice blanch. Good leeks are all about the blanch. The white and light green parts are money, some of the best stuff in the garden. Unfortunately, the dark green leafy bits are bollox. They’re fibrous, don’t puree well and can taste bitter. Blanching is key and the soil mound method wasn’t cutting it for us. It was time consuming and very hard to get more than 4-5 inches of good blanch.

Now we use a method stolen from Elliot Coleman. We block the leeks at four seeds per block, transplant them in October and allow them to over-winter. Next spring, by the third week in April, when the leeks are at least seven to nine inches tall, we dig them up and separate the stalks into individual plants (their roots inevitably become intertwined over winter). Then we trim a half-inch off their roots, punch an appropriately deep hole in a fresh bed using a broken off rake handle and drop the leek into the hole. We try to leave three or so inches exposed above ground and we don’t fill in the hole. Instead, it gets filled naturally via routine irrigation and precipitation. This method allows us to get at least a seven to nine inch blanch every time with almost no effort. It’s a great improvement over the absurdly laborious mounding method.

leek-soup

For this soup I brine the scallops before searing them. I make a salt water mix by taste, adding salt until it tastes like the sea. Then I soak my rinsed and cleaned scallops (remove the tough side muscle) to the brine for no more than ten minutes. Leave them in too long and the scallops will taste salty. Then I remove them and let them drain on a cooling rack for 20 minutes or so. In my opinion, scallops are best seared in a very hot, over-sized pan, with salt, corse black pepper and a bit of canola or grape-seed oil for between two and three minutes per side.

As for this soup it is a very standard preparation that can be adapted to any hearty, light colored vegetable (leek, fennel, celery root, kohlrabi, ect). The trick is to thicken it with a long-cooking, white roux, which allows for a velvety, smooth texture. Without the roux it would require the pure for thickening and would retain a gritty, puree texture.

Seared Scallop with Fennel Leek Soup

ingredients

  • 4 ea large sea (or diver) scallops
  • 2 tb canola oil
  • 1 lb blanched leek (the white and green parts), sliced 1/4 inch
  • 1 lg fennel bulb, cleaned and diced
  • 2 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 c ap flour
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 4 c whole milk
  • salt
  • white pepper
  • nutmeg, whole

method

Brine and sear scallops as described above. Meanwhile, add olive oil to a hot, deep pan and add butter allowing it to foam. Add leek, fennel and garlic. Cook for two minutes (fish out and retain some leek rings for garnish), stir in flour and cook over low heat until soft (15 min or so). Add milk, increase heat and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes. Puree mixture in a high speed blender until smooth. Clean you pot. Pour soup back into the pot through a fine mesh strainer. Add white pepper and a few grates of nutmeg. Adjust salt. To serve, elevate scallop on retained leek rings, pour soup around scallop and garnish with fennel fronds and grated pepper.

Cooking time: 30

3 comments to Fall Planting Comes Good and The Last Soup Post for a While

  • This is an interesting post. I enjoyed especially reading about how you grow your leeks. I have never grown them, myself, but for some reason I find all the allium family interesting.

  • Mike

    The alliums are fantastic. I’m always tempted to let them go to seed because their seeds pods are so pretty.

  • I am so glad I found your site- I am a serious sucker for a new soup recipe! This is a good one, as I feel like I always have SO much fennel and don’t really know what to do with it! Very beautiful photos too…

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