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Recipes and Stories

14 March 2018: A Gratin of Spring Leeks

A Classic Gratin of Spring Leeks

We rarely think of giving leeks in a starring role in cooking. More often than not, this kitchen workhorse is expected to retire into the background, lending its subtle, fresh flavor to the more showy main ingredients of a soup, stew, sauté or occasional casserole.

But leeks are a lovely vegetable and when they’re given the center of the stage (or plate or pan if you will) they really do shine, especially in the spring. This versatile member of the onion family is available at other times of the year, of course, but it’s in the spring that they’re the most tender and flavorful and when it’s most appropriate to let them take a starring role.

Recently developing recipes for a client, I was looking for green onions to put into a gratin and noticed a bin of bright, fresh young leeks. It didn’t take a genius to switch gears and use them in place of the sad looking onions that were in the market that day.

Spring Leeks Au Gratin

Classic and fairly easy to make, this sumptuous gratin is great with almost any roast, broiled or sautéed chicken, or pan-broiled chops of any kind.

Serves 4

2 pounds slender young leeks
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
Whole nutmeg in a grater
1-2 tablespoons finely minced thyme, oregano, chives, flat-leaf parsley, or a blend of all of them
1 cup heavy cream (minimum 36% milkfat)
2-3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1. Trim the roots and withered leaves from the leeks. Trim the green tops to a uniform length to fit a 2-quart gratin dish or shallow casserole. Holding each one root-end-up, wash it under cold running water, bending back the leaves to get all grit between the layers. If you’ve not been able to find slender leeks, cut in half lengthwise. They’ll cook more evenly and will be easier to clean. Drop them a basin of cold water.

2. Put enough water to half cover the leeks into shallow lidded skillet that will hold them snugly in one layer. Cover and bring it to a boil Bring to boil over medium heat. Drain the leeks and add them to the pan. Loosely cover, let it come back to a boil, then uncover, add a healthy pinch salt, and reduce the heat to medium. Simmer until just tender, about 8-10 minutes.

3. Butter a 2-quart gratin dish or shallow casserole. Remove the leeks from the skillet with a slotted spatula or tongs, drain well, and transfer them to the prepared dish. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg and sprinkle evenly with the herbs.

4. Raise the heat under the skillet to medium-high and boil the liquid down to 2 tablespoons. Add the cream, let it come to a boil, and boil until slightly thickened. Pour this evenly over the leeks. The gratin can be made up to 4 hours ahead to this point. Let it cool completely and loosely cover it until you’re ready to bake it. Refrigerating is not necessary.

5. About 45 minutes before you’re ready to serve it, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 350° F. Sprinkle the leeks with Parmigiano-Reggiano and bake until golden and bubbly, about 20-25 minutes. Let it rest 5-10 minutes before serving.

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