Leeks baked in white sauce with crispy breadcrumbs and optional cheese. Leek gratin makes a gorgeous side dish or even the star of the show. It’s easy to make a vegan version too.
Leeks are straightforward to grow, productive and versatile with a robust, easy-going nature. Simple to prepare, they taste good and are a stalwart of the autumn and winter kitchen. Too often, however, they’re hidden amongst other ingredients. I’ve lifted leeks from the back row and given them centre stage in this leek gratin.
This leek gratin goes by many different names: creamed leeks or simply leeks in white sauce are the most common. My grandmother used to make this a lot for me as I was her fussy vegetarian granddaughter. Like all of her cooking, it was delicious and I loved it.
It’s a multi layered dish with different textures and flavours and it’s comfort food at its best. Succulent leeks covered with creamy sauce and topped with a crisp and crunchy layer. Hard to beat, huh? CT likes the squeaky leeky bit best.
How to Make Leek Gratin
First off you need to infuse the milk with the clove and bay leaf. Warm, but don’t boil the milk with the spices. Turn off the heat and leave it for twenty minutes, or longer if you can. The longer you leave it the more the milk will pick up the botanical flavours.
The next stage is all about the leeks. Ensure you give them a good clean, especially the upper green leaves which can often harbour grit. Cut them into lengths and simmer in a little salted water for about seven minutes or until a knife slides in easily. Drain the leeks, but keep the water. Transfer the leeks to a greased gratin or shallow oven proof dish.
See the section below on how to make a classic white sauce or béchamel. For this recipe, I use some of the leek water to make the sauce as well as the milk. I then add a little cream at the end. Cover the leeks with white sauce.
Then it’s just a case of covering the dish with breadcrumbs and baking it. In this instance, I’ve added some grated cheddar cheese to the breadcrumbs as we enjoyed it as a main meal, but I generally don’t if it’s destined to be a side dish.
I usually use wholemeal breadcrumbs as it’s rare for me to have white bread in the house. However, you’ll see in the photographs for this leek gratin that the breadcrumbs are actually white. I had some white bread leftover from the bunny chow I made recently, which I’d crumbed and put into the freezer for the next time I needed breadcrumbs.
Béchamel or White Sauce
Smooth and creamy white sauce or béchamel, as it’s also known, is such a useful sauce to have up one’s sleeve. You can use it as a base to make so many dishes. In its simplest form, you just need three ingredients: butter (or oil), flour and milk. Salt and pepper help a lot though.
The sauce is simple to make, but it does require your full attention. One quick and easy way to spoil your béchamel is to let it go lumpy, so you need to whisk or stir vigilantly. Start by making a roux with the butter and flour. Allow it to cook for a minute or two, then slowly add in warm milk, stirring all the time until you have a lump free sauce.
Once you’ve got a thickened sauce, simmer it over a gently heat for a two to three minutes. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more milk.
How to Use White Sauce or Béchamel
You can jazz white sauce up in all sorts of ways. Here I’ve infused the milk with a clove and a bay leaf, then added a little nutmeg. Normally I’d add an onion as well, but as this white sauce is for a leek dish, the additional allium flavour isn’t needed. I’ve also used some of the water in which the leeks are cooked with a little double cream for that elusive unctuous mouthfeel.
To make a classic mornay or cheese sauce, simply add grated cheese to your warm white sauce. Give it a good stir and it will melt in most beautifully. This is the perfect sauce for macaroni cheese or broccoli and cauliflower cheese.
Add finely chopped parsley for parsley sauce or finely snipped chives for a chive sauce. To make an onion sauce, you can also gently fry sliced or chopped onions in the butter before adding the flour. Likewise, for mushrooms to make a mushroom sauce.
Use your béchamel to make lasagna, moussaka or pastitsio. Or why don’t you start at the very beginning with this leek gratin?
It’s easy to turn this leek gratin into a cheesy leek gratin. Just swap the clove and bay leaf for one teaspoon of mustard. There’s no need to infuse the milk first. Then add 25g of cheddar cheese, gruyere or a vegetarian parmesan style cheese to the white sauce just before you pour it over the leeks. Finish with a further 25g mixed into the breadcrumbs before you scatter it over the top.
Cheesy leeks make a great main dish as well as a special side. We really like them served with a jacket potato and cabbage.
Vegan Leek Gratin
Vegans don’t despair. It’s super easy to make a vegan version of this leek gratin.
Swap the butter for olive oil and the milk for your favourite plant milk. Soya, cashew or almond are particularly good for white sauce. Job done.
If you want to make the dish a bit more substantial, mix in 25g of your favourite ground or chopped nuts into the breadcrumbs prior to baking.
So if you’re making a vegan roast dinner or catering for a vegan, why not consider giving leek gratin a starring role?
Other Leek Recipes You Might Like
- Cheese & leek bread pudding via Tin and Thyme
- Cheesy potato & leek soup via The Baking Explorer
- Creamy leek strudel wreath (vegan) via The Veg Space
- Leek & courgette soup via Fab Food 4 All
- Leek & potato kugel via Family Friends Food
- Spanish leek croquettes via Christina’s Cucina
- Stir-fried brussels sprouts with leek, garlic, ginger & chilli (vegan) via Tin and Thyme
- Three allium courgette tart via Tin and Thyme
- Vegetarian chicken & leek pie via Only Crumbs Remain
- Welsh pancakes with leek and mushroom chocolate sauce via Tin and Thyme
Keep in Touch
Thanks for visiting Tin and Thyme. If you try this leek gratin or a version of it, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. And do please rate the recipe. Have you any top tips? Do share photos on social media too and use the hashtag #tinandthyme, so I can spot them.
If you’d like more side dish recipes, follow the link and you’ll find I have quite a lot of them. All delicious, of course.
Leek Gratin. PIN IT.
Leek Gratin – The Recipe
- 3 large leeks
- 100 ml milk
- 1 clove
- 1 bay leaf
- salt & pepper
- 25 g flour (I tend to use ordinary plain flour for white sauce, but if using wholemeal flour, sieve out the largest bits of bran)
- 25 g butter
- 50 ml double cream
- fresh nutmeg
- 50 g breadcrumbs (I usually use wholemeal breadcrumbs)
- 25 g hard cheese – grated (optional)
- Place the milk in a small pan with the clove and bayleaf. Heat the milk until almost boiling, then turn off the heat and leave it to infuse for twenty minutes.
- Meanwhile, trim the ends off the leeks and wash them thoroughly. Cut into 8-10 cm (3-4") lengths. Cut any particularly thick pieces in half lengthways.
- Turn the oven on to 200℃ (400℉, Gas 6).
- Place the leeks in a lidded pan with a pinch of salt and add just enough water to cover. Bring to the boil with the lid on and simmer for about 7 minutes or until tender. You should be able to slide a sharp knife in easily, but the leeks should still hold together.
- Drain the leeks but reserve the water. Place them into a small greased gratin or ovenproof dish.
- Melt the butter in a pan over a low heat. Stir in the flour until well mixed and leave it to cook for a minute or two. Keep it on a low heat as you don’t want the flour to brown.
- Measure 100 ml of the reserved leek water and slowly add it to the flour mixture whisking as you go. Make sure you add the liquid bit by bit and keep whisking to ensure there are no lumps in between each addition. Remove the clove and bay leaf from the milk and whisk that in too. You should have a thickish, but beautifully smooth sauce. Stir in the cream.
- Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer, stirring as you go. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then grate in a little nutmeg. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour the white sauce over the leeks, then scatter the breadcrumbs over the top.
- Bake on the top shelf for 20 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and the breadcrumbs have browned.
- Allow to cool for a few minutes and serve.
I’m sharing this recipe for leek gratin three ways with The Peachicks Bakery for #CookBlogShare.