The French verb fondre means to melt.
Most of us are familiar with Fondue Savoyarde (bread dipped into a combination of melted cheeses) or even Fondue Bourguignonne (meat dipped into hot oil). In culinary French, however, the term doesn’t only refer to a swash-buckling meal where you have to fend for yourself.
Fondre is also used for what English speakers call “sautéing.” I’ve come across numerous recipes that asked me to faire fondre the onions (or shallots, or garlic). While this literally means “melt” the onions, you’re simply cooking them in some butter or oil until they’re soft and transparent- the basic idea of this recipe.
Fondue de poireaux (“melted leeks”) is a common side-dish I’ve started making. Due to the subtly sweet and delicate taste of leeks, it goes well with a wide variety of main dishes. I recently matched it with Eggs Benedict- the combination of “melting” leeks and poached eggs (covered in disobedient hollandaise sauce) was a delight.
I don’t remember regularly eating leeks back in the States. Here in France, however, I eat them all the time. They’ve shown up in quiches, soups, sauces, gratins, omelets… Perhaps they’re so popular because France and Belgium produce half of the leeks in Europe? Or does it stem from Medieval France when they were considered a base-ingredient, especially among the most impoverished? I personally think it’s because they’re fun to buy and carry home (the leaves sticking playfully out of your shopping bag) and they’re very easy to prepare.
I’ve seen many recipes that call for heavy cream, butter- all sorts of other ingredients- but I prefer this very simple, quick and healthy version of fondue de poireaux (for two people):
Salt and pepper
1. Prepare the leek
Cut off the bottom roots and top leaves (where the white stalk becomes green) and peel off the first layer of skin. Cut one long slit down the stalk and watch the leek open up. This makes it easier to wash (make sure you get all the gritty dirt out from between the top layers of skin) and also helps the leek break up naturally while cooking. Chop into half-inch rounds.
2. “Melt” the leek
While you’re preparing the leek, slowly heat some olive oil in a sauce pan. Add prepared leeks, salt and pepper. Let cook, stirring often to avoid burning. Keep covered when not stirring.
When the leeks are tender and beginning to brown, they’re ready. Enjoy with the main dish or your choice.