That has started to change, though, since I met my friend Olaiya Land.
Olaiya spent four years living in Brussels, where she studied, taught English, and worked as a translator. She fell in love with the place—in fact, she's the reason that my husband and I went there. Though she now lives in Seattle and runs a small catering company, her kitchen is filled with remnants of Belgium: antique silver flatware, pretty old platters, a collection of café au lait bowls bought at the flea market at the Place du Jeu de Balle. (Jill calls it the Marrolles Market) I've had my eye on the bowls since I first saw them, but my favorite of her Belgian finds is a recipe. It's a recipe for what I have come to call leek confit.
Essentially, leek confit is nothing more than leeks that have been sliced into thin rounds, chucked into a Dutch oven with a decent amount of butter, and left to cook under a tight lid for about half an hour. But with the help of moist heat, they become much more than that. They soften like loops of satin ribbon, and their oniony flavor gives way to something more delicate and sweet.
You could eat leek confit straight from the pot, but it is a little rich, and that's part of its charm. I like to fold it into scrambled eggs or an omelet—anything, really, that involves eggs. You could also use it as a bed for a piece of seared salmon, dab it onto flatbread, or spoon it into baked mushroom caps with some Parmesan. It's the kind of thing that tends to make itself very useful. I've been known to pull it out of the fridge to spruce up a ho-hum weeknight dinner of fried eggs and toast, and it's also handy when friends come over for a drink. As far as appetizers go, this one is almost instant: Slice a baguette, spread it with goat cheese, and pile warm confit on top. Ta-dah.
But Olaiya has found the best use for leek confit. She puts it in a regional Belgian dish called flamiche, or leek tart. The origins of flamiche are not without contention: Some say it hails from a town in southern Belgium called Dinant, while others claim that it is, in fact, French, from the Picardie region. But it particularly thrives in Dinant, where it is celebrated in an annual festival. There, it is primarily flavored with a pungent local cheese, but the more I read about flamiche, I find that every recipe is a little different. Most include leeks, but some also call for onions or bacon or ham. Some have a double crust, like an American apple pie, and though many include cheese or custard, others don't. Every Belgian family, Olaiya tells me, has its own way of making it.
Olaiya's version of flamiche is fairly classic. It's not unlike a leek quiche, really, but for added interest, she crumbles a bit of aged goat cheese into the confit before she pours in the custard. In general, leeks and goat cheese are a great pair—one of those matches made in heaven—but leeks and aged goat cheese are a particularly sultry duo. This tart is perfectly delicious with a standard fresh goat cheese, but with an aged one, it is, as Olaiya once confessed, "addictive." She buys aged Bûcheron, which is made in a large log shape and sold in thick slices. It has an enticingly moist, sticky texture and a flavor between tangy and smooth. Tucked into a mouthful of leek confit and custard, it is very, very fine. I would happily eat it for brunch, lunch, or dinner. Or all three.
But there are so many flamiches to love, and I don't plan to stop here. If every Belgian family has its own signature recipe, it's only fair, I figure, that I should have one, too.
Belgian Leek Tart with Aged Goat Cheese (Flamiche Aux Poireaux)
4 tablespoons (or more) ice water
3/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 1 tablespoon chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup crumbled aged goat cheese (such as Bûcheron), rind trimmed
1 1/2 cups Leek Confit
Combine 4 tablespoons ice water and cider vinegar in small bowl. Blend flour and salt in processor. Add butter and cut in using on/off turns until mixture resembles coarse meal. With machine running, slowly add water-vinegar mixture, processing until moist clumps form. If dough seems dry, add ice water by teaspoonfuls.
Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours. DO AHEAD Can be made 3 days ahead. Keep refrigerated. Allow dough to soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Roll dough out on lightly floured work surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Press dough onto bottom and up sides. Fold in overhang and press to extend dough 1/2 inch above sides of pan. Line pan with foil and dried beans or pie weights. Bake until dough looks dry and set, about 30 minutes. Remove foil and beans and continue to bake until crust is pale golden, 20 to 25 minutes longer. Remove from oven and cool while preparing filling.
Whisk milk, cream, egg, egg yolk, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Sprinkle 1/4 cup cheese over bottom of warm crust; spread leek confit over and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Pour milk mixture over. Bake until filling has puffed, is golden in spots, and center looks set, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool slightly. Remove pan sides. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Recipe and photo by Molly Wizenberg