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Thanksgiving kitchen tips: Cleaning leeks (and a recipe)

Los Angeles Times Test Kitchen director Noelle Carter, suggests a thorough cleaning of leeks before using them in recipes.

As wonderful as they may be in a recipe, leeks can often be a real pain to clean.

A member of the onion family, leeks look like large scallions with a thick stalk or base. Because the white part of the base is prized in cooking, farmers mound dirt around the leeks to keep out the sunlight, extending the white as the leek grows.

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Unfortunately, a lot of that dirt and grit ends up in between the layers of the leeks as they grow.

To clean a leek, peel and discard any old outer leaves, then trim the leek of the dark green leaves and base, reserving the white and any of the very light green base. Trim the root end, then halve the leek lengthwise. Rinse the leek under cold, running water, feeling between the layers to loosen and dislodge any dirt or grit. Finally, slice and use as desired.

Finally, rinse the pieces in a colander under cold water. Just to make sure everything is totally clean.

Ready to go, they're perfect in the roasted pumpkin salad below.

Craving more? Check out our handy holiday recipes and cooking tips page to help you out with your Thanksgiving planning. Not only do we cover familiar holiday dishes, we also share tips and tricks to save you time and energy during this busy time of year. If you have any tips or questions you'd like me to explore, leave a comment or shoot me an email at noelle.carter@latimes.

(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

ROASTED PUMPKIN SALAD

Total time: About 1 hour, 15 minutes, plus cooling time for the vegetables | Serves 8 to 10

    10 cups cubed pumpkin (peeled and seeded), cut into 1-inch pieces (from about 7 pounds of pumpkin)
    3 cups red pearl onions, peeled and trimmed
    6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
    1 1/8 teaspoons salt, divided
    Freshly ground black pepper
    3/4 teaspoon minced rosemary
    1 teaspoon minced thyme
    6 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4 -inch strips
    1 medium leek, trimmed (root end and tough outer greens), halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/4 -inch strips
    1 teaspoon minced garlic
    1/4 cup dry white wine
    1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
    1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    1/2 cup walnut oil
    1 cup walnut halves
    2 heads frisee, leaves separated from the root
    6 cups lightly packed mesclun mix or mixed greens

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, toss the pumpkin and onions with 3 tablespoons olive oil, one-half teaspoon salt, several grinds of pepper, the rosemary and thyme. Place the vegetables on a foil-lined baking pan and roast until softened and lightly caramelized, about 45 minutes, tossing every 15 minutes for even coloring. Remove the pan and allow the pumpkin and onions to cool to room temperature.

3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until it is crisp, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to cool. Drain all but 3 tablespoons of the bacon fat, discarding or reserving the rest for another use.

4. Add the leek strips to the pan and place over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until they soften and just begin to color, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Stir in the white wine and cook, scraping any of the flavorful bits that stick to the bottom of the pan, until the wine evaporates, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

5. Place the leek strips and any cooking liquid in a medium bowl. Whisk in the vinegar and mustard. Drizzle in the walnut oil while whisking to emulsify. Season with one-eighth teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper, or to taste. Set aside in a warm place.

6. Toss the walnuts with 3 tablespoons olive oil and one-half teaspoon salt. Spread on a sheet pan and toast in the 375-degree oven until the nuts are fragrant and a rich brown color, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove and cool slightly. Set aside. The salad components can be made up to this point 1 day in advance. Refrigerate the components separately, and warm the dressing before folding into the salad.

7. In a large serving bowl, toss the greens with two-thirds of the vinaigrette. Gently fold in the roasted pumpkin and onions, the bacon and toasted walnuts. Add extra vinaigrette as needed to lightly coat the contents.

8. Serve immediately, or cover and chill until needed, up to several hours in advance. Allow to warm slightly before serving.

Each of 10 servings: 357 calories; 7 grams protein; 25 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams fiber; 27 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 8 mg. cholesterol; 426 mg. sodium.

Love cooking as much as I do? Follow me @noellecarter

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