Monday, March 18, 2013

Leeks in Béchamel Sauce

This is probably the last chance this season to share the recipe for leeks since they are rather a fall-winter vegetable. And once the spring hopefully comes one day soon we will crave more the fresh and crispy vegetables, so leeks will be forgotten until fall.

Leeks are a wonderful vegetable, but you either like them or not. I am one of those who love them and one of my favorite dishes are leeks in mustard sauce, which I make often during cold months and serve as cold cuts accompaniment.

But recently I had some leeks and extra ham and made this nice, warm dish in Béchamel. I tried something similar years ago in London and it worked well then too. And if you are not yet a leek lover I believe this could the best way to get acquainted with them.

Only the white/yellowish and sweet parts are used which very much remind onion. Leeks are wrapped in French or Italian cooked ham and baked in a creamy Béchamel sauce with a little bit of cheese on top. They cut easily and taste really good soaked in Béchamel, especially accompanied by fresh baguette and a glass of wine. They can also be served with rice, making a dinner dish. Either way, it is a very tasty dish, which all leek lovers will appreciate.

Leeks in Béchamel Sauce
(Serves four)

4 large leeks,
4 large or 8 smaller slices of cooked (preferably French or Italian) ham,
3 tbsp butter, plus extra one to butter the baking dish,
1/4 cup all purpose flour,
2 cups of milk,
1/2 cup Gruyère, or cheddar cheese,
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg,
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped flat leaves parsley

1. Cut out the most green and hard parts of leeks and wash toughly making sure that you rinse out the soil from between the leaves. If your leeks are long cut them in half.
2. In a large pot bring water to boil with a tbsp of salt. Put in the leeks and cook them for 3-5 minutes. Drain on the colander.
3. Make the Béchamel sauce. In a medium heavy duty pot melt butter. Add flour and, using a wooden spoon or a whisker, mix until a gold and thick paste forms. Using a whisker incorporate a cup of milk. When there are no lumps in the mixture, pour in the rest of the milk and heat. Whisk until the sauce thickens and becomes velvety smooth. Let it simmer for 2-3 minutes stirring frequently. Season the sauce with nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

4. Preheat oven to 400 F.
5. Grease a medium oven-proof dish with butter.
6. Place the slices of ham on the cutting board, put at the end leeks and roll them up in ham.

Place leeks in the oven-proof dish.

Cover with Béchamel and sprinkle with cheese. Cover with aluminium foil and bake for about 15-20 minutes. take off the foil and continue baking until the cheese becomes gold, which will take another 10-15 minutes.

Serve warm, sprinkle with parsley.

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