Gratin de Poireaux
(Gratin of leeks)


Serves 4

This is a basic gratin recipe, which can be used for many different vegetables such as cauliflower, courgettes or spinach. They should all be cooked until just tender, then thoroughly drained before coating with sauce.

6-8 medium leeks together weighing about 500g
60g grated gruyère or Parmesan cheese (for sprinkling)
tablespoon melted butter for the béchamel sauce
600ml milk
sliced onion
bay leaf
6 peppercorns
50g butter
40g flour
salt and pepper
pinch of grated nutmeg

1. Trim the leeks, discarding the green tops (use these for a soup). Split them twice lengthwise halfway to the root and wash the leeks very thoroughly. Cook them in boiling salted water 8-12 minutes or until tender. drain, refresh with cold water and drain again.

2. For the béchamel sauce: Scald the milk in a saucepan. Add the onion, bay leaf and peppercorns and leave to infuse over low heat for 5-10 minutes to add flavour, but do not allow to boil. Meanwhile, make the roux: melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan, whisk in the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes until foaming but not browned; allow it to cool. Strain in the hot milk, whisk well, then bring the sauce to the boil, whisking constantly, and add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Simmer for 3-5 minutes.

3. If not used at once, rub the surface of the sauce with butter to prevent a skin from forming. The sauce can be kept for 2-3 days covered in the refrigerator.

4. Spoon a little béchamel sauce into a buttered, shallow baking dish. Cut the leeks in 6cm lengths, arrange them on top and coat with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with the cheese and then the melted butter. The gratin can be prepared up to 24 hours ahead to this point and kept covered in the refrigerator, or it can be frozen.

To finish: bake the gratin in a very hot oven, 220°C (425°F) gas 7, for 10 - 15 minutes or until browned and bubbling.

VARIATION For a more unusual gratin dish, substitute 500g cucumber, cut in thick slices and sautéed in 15g butter.

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