Recently my friend Charlotte came over for a cooking date. The challenge: cook something that seems a bit scary or unfamiliar. We made a recipe I ripped out of Saveur magazine. The recipe was packed with slightly intimidating, umami laden ingredients. It was good, but not good enough. We tweaked it and that change led to today’s recipe, roasted leek and blue cheese on toast.
First, let’s talk umami. Sometimes it feels like one of those foodie words that people have heard of but don’t know what it means. It’s the fifth flavor after salt, sweet, sour, and bitter. Umami is a rich savory flavor that’s sometimes called meatiness. I recently read in the The Food Lab that umami is activated by glutamates.
I’ll be honest the word glutamates doesn’t bring up any image, but it did help organize my mind. Salt flavor is triggered by salt, sweet trigged by sugar, sour triggered by acid, and bitter triggered by chemical compounds that make us think something is possibly poisonous. With that knowledge, umami isn’t a random thing some scientist made up, but it’s a compound in foods. Foods like Parmesan, anchovies, and tomato paste.
And also blue cheese, Worcestershire sauce, and red wine. That’s why the recipe I found in Saveur was a little scary. It was for whole leeks stuffed with those umami laden ingredients (and more). Could those flavors effectively blend together and make something delicious?
Let me tell you, they did. They blended together real nice. With the addition of dried cranberries and almonds, there was powerful flavor, interesting texture, and a hint of sweetness. So good. Charlotte and I actually scraped the filling out of the leeks so we could eat it directly. We then made culinary magic happen when we put the filling on bread.
The olive oil soaks into the bread and softens it slightly. Salty flavors from the cheese enhance the flavor of the olive oil. Overall this roasted mixture shines. And let’s be honest, everything is better on bread. I’ve been eating this for lunch or when I’m solo for dinner. However, I think it would also be great as an hors d’oeuvres at a party. It’s great party food not just because it’s small and portable, but also because totally cooking time is low and the only skill you need is chopping.
Adapted from Saveur magazine.
Messy level: It’s wonderfully neat! Simply chop, stir, and bake. Be careful transferring your roasted mixture back into the bowl at the end. Nobody wants to spill hot oil all over themselves or the kitchen.
- ½ baguette cut into ½" rounds (about 20 pieces)
- ⅓ cup dried cranberries
- 25 almonds
- 1 small leek
- ¼ cup crumbled blue cheese
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1½ teaspoons hot sauce
- 1½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 anchovy fillets, optional
- Heat the oven to 420°F/215°C.
- Place the baguette rounds on a baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 6-8 minutes, or until the bread starts to turn golden brown on the edges. When the bread is done put it on a plate and keep the baking sheet handy.
- While the bread is toasting, roughly chop the cranberries, almonds, and the anchovies too, if using. Put them in a large bowl.
- Also, while the bread is toasting, cut the root end of the leek off then cut it in half lengthwise. Run it under the sink, ensuring you're washing the dirt out from between the layers. Then, chop the leek into thin half moons. Add the bowl with cranberries and almonds.
- Add the blue cheese, butter, olive oil, red wine vinegar, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to the bowl with the cranberries.
- Stir until everything is thoroughly mixed and the solid food is coated with the dressing.
- Pour the mixture on to the baking sheet you used for the bread. Spread it so it's in an even layer. [Note: you can line your baking sheet, I didn't and it went fine and nothing stuck]
- Bake the mixture for 13 minutes, or until the leek has softened and it no longer crunchy.
- Turn the broiler on and broil for 2-3 minutes. It's done when small bits and edges are starting to blacken.
- Remove from the oven. Scoop and pour everything from the pan back into that big bowl. Give is a stir, then dollop the leek and blue cheese mixture onto the bread.
- Serve on a plate. Drizzle with extra olive oil if you like.