Three-cornered leek

Categories: Product of the week

A wild member of the allium family with a particularly short season

“Three-cornered leek has a very short season,” says Noel Fitzjohn of Fitz Fine Foods, mid-forage in a field somewhere in Sussex. “It is only around for five, maybe six weeks. In some ways it is similar to wild garlic, but the plant is a lot taller with a longer leaf and flower stem.”

The plant is actually part of the allium family and grows in various places all over England, known by different names around the country, including wild onion, wild leek or sand leek.

“You hear a lot of people saying it is a widespread plant, but this is not technically true,” Noel explains. “The misunderstanding probably comes from the fact that it is hugely invasive in the conditions that it likes to grow in, which are generally cool and wet, but there are lots of places where it will not go at all.”

Preserving the flavour
Those found at Fitz Fine Foods are from the few patches in East Sussex where Noel has come across them growing wild. “It is why I am out picking now. The shortness of the season means that I have to get it while I can, which is one of the reasons we use it in pesto—it is a way of preserving the flavour for longer.”

“The next pesto we are making is Wild Wood pesto, which worked really well when we first tried it. It goes with just about anything. We recently tried it with some vegetarian stuffed tomatoes and stuffed peppers and it was beautiful.”

Noel is not the only fan of this allium—vegetarian cook and Borough Market demonstration chef Celia Brooks likes to use it in her cooking whenever it’s in season. “I first came across it—at least by that name—on Fitz Fine Foods stall here at the Market.”

Giant chive
Finding it on the stall inspired the chef to take a closer look. To her surprise, she realised it was growing on her allotment.  “I didn’t know what it was but had been using it as a kind of giant chive for some time,” she recalls.

“It has a fairly strong allium flavour, but the thing that makes it different is that it has a nice bite to it—a lovely kind of crunch—so I actually prefer not to pound it, blend it, or cook it too much,” she explains. “I think it is at its best when its texture is maintained.”

One way Celia suggests using it is in a very thin omelette. “I like to chop it into chunky pieces so they have a bit of presence and then mix them into a mixture of eggs, milk and a bit of seasoning—but don’t beat it too hard, as you don't want to crush the chopped leaves.”

A thin pancake
Pour the mixture into a well-buttered frying pan when the butter’s foaming a little. “What you're looking for is the consistency of a thin pancake—almost translucent. You want to be able to see the green of the leek.”

“If you want to do a bit more, sprinkle some grated parmesan or cheddar over the top and stick it under the grill very briefly so the cheese starts to melt but make sure the leek doesn’t cook too much. It is a really delicious dish. The three-cornered leek really adds something to the omelette both in terms of flavour and texture.”

If you are new to three-cornered leek, Celia suggests chopping some up raw and sprinkling it in a salad. “It looks really lovely sliced in the slant to create little diamond shapes. If you're not sure what to do with it, you can just use it in the same way you would use a spring onion. It brings the same flavour of the allium family, but with its own little notes.”

Bright green colour
The bright green colour of the leaves also makes it a great finishing garnish. Celia often throws some on to a finished stir-fry or rice dish. “The rice makes a nice canvas—the green shows up beautifully against the white. It adds a nice flavour and looks really pretty, too.”

Celia also suggests making the most of its flowers. “They are very pretty white, edible flowers,” she reveals. “They have a more intense flavour than the leaves and look beautiful scattered over a finished dish or some canapés. People often forget the flowers of herbs and vegetables, but often they are just as nice as the parts we are more familiar with.”