Baby leek and potato gratin ~ Ham Pie Sandwiches

08 April 2013

Baby leek and potato gratin

baby spring leeks

Spring means ramp season across much of the US, and the foodbloggers are starting to sit up and take notice. Ramp chimichurri, ramp pasta, ramp foraging and preserving guides--it's all ramps all the time.

Guess what I have never once seen in California? That's right: ramps.

Instead, when I went to the farmer's market last weekend, guess what I found?

baby spring leeks

That's right: it's the new season's first baby leeks. So tiny! So delightful! They aren't ramps, but they're still beautiful new fragrant alliums barely as thick as my index finger--and at $1.75 a bunch, I'll definitely take them.

And then I'll smother them in cream sauce and bake them into a fragrant potato gratin. Sure! Why not?

This recipe requires three main components: sauce, vegetables, and breadcrumb crust. If you are working by yourself, you may want to get the vegetables prepped in advance, but you can also cut them up afterward as long as you remember to watch the sauce and stir it occasionally. If you're working with someone else, you can do the veg and sauce at the same time. The breadcrumbs can go last with no problem.

All the leftover leek greens went immediately into a batch of vegetable broth destined for the freezer. Because it's great to make veg broth on the fly and everything, but sometimes you just want to whack a chunk of premade broth into a pot and walk away.

Baby leek and potato gratin

half and half/cream
nutmeg, pepper
olive oil
dijon mustard

For the sauce, start by melting half a stick of butter over medium heat in a saucepan of your choice. (We used the gratin dish, so as to avoid an extra dirty pot, but I wouldn't recommend it.) Add 4 tablespoons of flour and whisk together, cooking for about three minutes, to make a roux. Add a pint of cream or half and half and continue to cook, whisking frequently, for a good five minutes or so. The sauce will thicken as it cooks. You can add a bit of milk to thin it down if you think it needs it.

Season your thickened sauce with a tiny bit of nutmeg and a copious amount of ground black pepper. Gradually whisk in several large handfuls of grated gruyere cheese. If you want to use another cheese, feel free; just keep in mind that any highly flavored cheeses are going to dominate the finished product.

sauce mornay

Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a pan of sauce mornay!

Okay. The vegetables mostly require a lot of cleaning and chopping. I used five little leeks and five boiling potatoes. Trim the roots and the ends of the tough greens off your leeks, split them in half, and wash them really well under cold running water. Slice them into inch-long chunks.

Scrub your potatoes well, removing any eyes. You can peel them if you like; I don't bother. Cut them in half, rest each half on its cut side, and slice into the thinnest slices you can manage. If you're prepping potatoes in advance, make sure to put them into a bowl of cold water; otherwise they can oxidize and turn to black mush in an astonishingly short period of time. Then just drain and pat them with a paper towel before assembling the gratin.

baby leek and potato gratin

When your sauce and veg are ready, mix them together and pour them into a gratin dish or casserole of your choice. I also splashed a bit of milk over the top of mine, since the sauce was pretty thick and I wanted to make sure the potatoes had enough liquid to absorb.

Now it's time for the crust. This is easy. Just mix a cup or so of breadcrumbs with a sprinkling of olive oil, a couple spoonfuls of dijon mustard, and a bit of pepper. We usually end up cubing pieces of fresh bread for our crumbs, but whatever you have should work. Mix everything together, making sure you have enough oil to coat the bread. Then spread your breadcrumb mixture over the top of your gratin dish. If you have extra grated cheese, scatter it on last. Otherwise, the breadcrumbs work well by themselves.

baby leek and potato gratin

Now put the whole thing in the oven and bake at 350F for about forty minutes, or until your potatoes are tender to the point of a knife and your breadcrumbs are golden and sizzling.

Hooray! Beautiful, golden, fragrant gratin!

baby leek and potato gratin with green salad

We ate our gratin as dinner, with big mesclun and grape tomato salads. Then I ate the leftovers for breakfast the next day, after a short encrispening in the toaster oven. I didn't put a fried egg on top, but I was tempted. That would be pretty perfect, especially with another big bed of greens.

The tomatoes were also at the farmer's market, incidentally, as were a vast array of heirloom tomato plants. I got two. Soon they will be in my garden. SOON.

Which alliums are popping up at your market? What are you making with them?


Caz said...

This looks so good, creamy and comforting. Ramps are not something we're familiar with in the UK (maybe they go by another name. I will have investigate!) but baby leeks are one of my favourites. :)

Michelle said...

I had leeks two weekends ago (and someday they'll end up on the blog). They're so good. I haven't seen ramps or these little baby leeks. They're so cute!

Your potato gratin looks divine. So comforting!

Jes said...

Gorgeous gratin!!

I live in the heart of ramp country and I've never been able to find any. I mean, I know they're growing all over, but they're like mushrooms. People keep their good foraging spots to themselves. And no farmers markets open yet to buy them at. Eventually I'm going to get my mitts on some! In the meantime I think your awesome sauce gratin might have to do the trick :)

Eva Kosmas said...

This looks insanely delicious. I love leeks and cheese together, the sweetness of the leeks from cooking and the melted cheese just make something incredibly magical happen. I've been trying to cut down on eating meat lately and this sounds like the perfect vegetarian dish to spice up our dinners :)

Monet said...

Spring is coming, and don't these baby leeks just scream of promise! This gratin couldn't look more delicious. Thank you for sharing! I'm glad to be back home after a week of traveling...and finally catching up on my favorite blogs. I hope you have a blessed week!

noelle said...

YUM. How come I've never had leftover gratin for breakfast?

I like those red onion spring onions that only seem to be at the market around this time of year to be sprinkled on everything not sweet.

Joanne said...

I've been seeing baby leeks also and it makes me so happy! No ramps yet though.

potatoes and leeks are totally a classic combo for a reason! So tasty.

Lizzy (Good Things) said...

I love leeks, Eileen, but sadly my partner doesn't, so will save your recipe for when he is next travelling with work. ; D

Eileen said...

No ramps for anyone? Hmm...I wonder if I'm just too early, or if they're getting more scarce due to overforaging. In any case, leeks work just fine. :)

Stephanie said...

Gersh, I'm jealous of your cute little baby leeks! I just used some reg leeks for my client this morning but I do say these tiny ones would've been so much better. Is the flavor subdued a bit? Or stronger? I need to find these asap. Ramps are amazing. I've had the pleasure of finding them at my local specialty grocer in the early spring (which reminds me, I should scoot over there pronto before they're gone-- so fleeting these elusive ramps!). Gratins are the BEST and I was actually going to make one the other day. Need to get on it! :-D

Unknown said...

I can't wait to try this recipe with my new batch of leeks!!

goboroot said...

I can't wait to try this recipe with my new batch of leeks!!

adriennefriend said...

It's all loads of green garlic here, and young fennel. I need to stop by my market on Thursday. It just opened last week. I live less than a mile away from possibly the best open air farmer's markets in Atlanta. No excuses!

JillyB said...

Yummy! Yep, I keep reading about ramps, ramps,ramps and more ramps. And yet, I've never seen one ever. I'd love to try them some time, but until then I make do with green garlic and baby leeks :)