Leeks have been relegated to the status of soup ingredient. But this mild cousin to onion and garlic has a seductive taste that is stand-alone good. Often used in French cooking, and the main ingredient in the classic dish vichyssoise, the leek is more commonly available in grocery stores than ever before.
It easily becomes comfort food when made au gratin style, enhanced simply with cream, salt and pepper. Topped with grated Pecorino Romano cheese (highly recommended by chefs of Italian food), it is elevated to an exquisite side dish that family and friends will love. Think Pecorino Romano is the same "grated cheese" you buy in a green canister? Try the real thing and you'll never go back.
Leeks are often quite sandy and dirty when purchased, so wash thoroughly. The dark green leafy portions are too bitter to eat and even to use for making stock, so discard them.
6 medium leeks, white and light-green part only
1 ½ cups heavy cream (usually called whipping cream in stores)
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Large (at least 12-inch), heavy skillet
Two-quart baking dish (an 8x8 or 9x9 pan will work)
Preheat oven to 375 F if baking immediately. Slice leeks in half lengthwise. In a large, heavy skillet, place leeks and cream. Sprinkle salt and pepper over all. Cook five minutes on medium-high until mixture is boiling. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook five minutes. Remove cover and simmer another 15 minutes. Transfer to baking dish. If making later, cover tightly with aluminum foil and refrigerate up to one day. If baking immediately, grate cheese over mixture and bake covered for about 30 minutes, or until golden. Test leeks with a fork for doneness. They should be soft to lightly firm. Let set for 5-10 minutes before serving.
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