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Baked Leeks with Bread Crumbs

Springtime leeks are the royalty of the onion family and have pride of place in French cuisine, where they appear with vinaigrettes and in quiches, stews and gratins, such as this one. Bursting with flavor, this dish works well as a first course, a main course or a side, and it can be baked in individual baking dishes or a single large one. Serve alongside a roast leg of lamb for a special occasion.

Ingredients:

  • 6 Tbs. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbs. minced shallots
  • 6 to 8 leeks, about 3 lb. total, white and light green portions,
      chopped
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 cups milk, plus more as needed
  • 3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup shredded Gruyère cheese
  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 400°F.

In a fry pan over medium-high heat, melt 2 Tbs. of the butter. Add the shallots, leeks, 1/2 tsp. of the salt and 1/2 tsp. of the white pepper. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until the leeks are translucent and very soft, about 15 minutes.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the 2 cups milk until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan. Cover and remove from the heat.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, melt 3 Tbs. of the butter. Remove from the heat and whisk in the flour, the remaining 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. white pepper and the cayenne. Set the pan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the hot milk and simmer, stirring, until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. If the sauce is too thin, increase the heat; if it is too thick, whisk in a little more milk. Then stir in the leek mixture.

Pour the mixture into a baking dish or a gratin dish. Sprinkle evenly with the cheese and bread crumbs, then dot with the remaining 1 Tbs. butter. Bake until the cheese and bread crumbs are golden and the gratin is bubbly, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve. Serves 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Vegetable of the Day, by Kate McMillan (Weldon Owen, 2012).