The leek above was planted as a seedling on the 18th of February, and after a quick autumn growth spurt, has been slowly coming to size all through the dark of winter. The earlier plantings (in early and mid January) have all gone to market now, and the beds have been turned over to spinach for spring. All in all it's been a great winter for leeks. This year's stand out variety is the Bulgarian Giant, which as you can see above, grows tall with pale green tops, has excellent flavour, and is easier to harvest than the de Carentans that I grew as the second planting.
At the market, I am sometimes asked how much of the leek to eat, and people tell me they cut off of the green tops for the compost. This idea has come about, I think, for two reasons. Firstly, with a shop-bought leek which may be several weeks old, the green tops are the first part of the plant to dehydrate and become woody. Secondly, the folds of the leek where the leaves begin to spread often contain soil that needs to be washed away, and it is easier to cut the top off the leek and use only the clean lighter part of the stem.
I find both these practices wasteful. With a trimmed fresh leek, like the one above, the whole of the plant is palatable, and should be tender enough right to the top. (And indeed I use even the trimmed green offcuts for an especially tasty leek and potato soup -- the trick is to slice the tops very finely across the grain to shorten the tougher fibres in the greener parts of the leaf.) Fussy French cooks will tell you to use only the white part of the leek on principle, but with a fresh plant and a little effort, your food will be more colourful...
Which brings us to washing out the soil from the folds of the leaves. Firstly, cut the leek in half lengthwise, as in photo above. Note that the cut is made with the leek lying flat, so the spreading leaves are out to either side -- this means the dirtier parts are more easily accessible when you get to the sink.
So, wash with the root end up and enjoy every inch of the queen of winter vegetables!