From Nick Serracino
Serves 4

The recipe calls for a lovely smoked Gubbeen cheese, local to Ireland. A good quality, semi soft, cow’s milk cheese can work just as well. I happened to come across a nice, Irish style Gouda that worked great (Sam’s Club).

  • 2lb 4oz (ish) Baby Leeks
  • 2 tbsp Butter
  • 2½ tbsp Plain, All-Purpose Flour
  • 1¼ Cup Milk
  • 3½oz Smoked Gubbeen Cheese Shredded (or use a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese)
  • Salt and Crushed Black Pepper

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. A simple blanch for the leeks, 3–6 minutes until tender. Remove them with tongs, drain thoroughly and place in an ovenproof dish. Reserve 1 cup of the leek blanching water.  Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat and stir in the flour. Cook until you find a light golden color.  Add the milk and reserved water. Whisk thoroughly until smooth.
Bring to a simmer and cook for 8–10 minutes. Remove from heat and add the cheese, stir until melted.

Pour the sauce over the leeks (in a nice loaf pan is great) and season with salt and crushed black pepper. Place the dish in the oven and bake until caramelized on top (should only be a few minutes).

Time and time again I have been so excited to try a new recipe I just hit the kitchen and dive right in. Often do I find myself in the heat of it all (sorry for the pun) to be missing half the ingredients. Cooking to me is an idea, some work out and others fall short. Recipes surely help, but can be used as a good guideline when you find the cupboards a little barer than you last remember.

Usually recipes are well developed and complete thoughts by some of the best chefs around. That, however, is not me. I also don’t feel the need to make sure I hit every mark, add every dash, or ever have a problem with a substitute here or there. I think we should all do the same. The map is above; feel free to read on for my experience with this dish.

The recipe calls for baby leeks which most certainly will end up with a nice sweetness once the dish is finished. I could only get my hands on a couple of large leeks. I cut off the root and quartered the leeks to hopefully make up the difference. I actually chopped about the top third of the greens off but only to fit the short loaf pan I used. I did use the whole leek, blanched all parts together until tender and bright. While the leeks were in the water I started my béchamel (melted butter and flour).

Be careful with the heat here, you don’t want to burn your butter or your flour. I added the flour about a table spoon at a time until I had a paste. I continually pulled the pan from the heat to manage the temperature a little easier. Once I had a nice light golden brown it was time to pull the leeks.

I placed them on a plate with a couple of paper towels to absorb the excess moisture. Those sat for a few minutes while I finished the béchamel. I added the reserved water (one cup) from the leeks to my butter and flour and gave it a quick stir. Directly after came the milk. I whisked and poured it slow.

I sprayed a metal loaf pan with some vegetable oil (just as some preventative maintenance) and threw in the leeks. Any loaf pan or ceramic dish that you like should be just fine. You may just verify the length of your leek fits your pan. That was a slight curveball for me. As the béchamel finished off I whisked when I had a free hand. You’re looking for a nice creamy texture. Once that is done add the shredded cheese.
I did find the nice Irish Gubbeen locally, straight from Ireland! Sadly, it wasn’t smoked and I didn’t like the price at thirty dollars a pound. My Italian heritage likes cheese in the fridge and thought I could find something else, a little more affordable, and hopefully have a little left over for a late night snack. Like I mentioned, I found a nice Irish style Gouda for about one third the price. It folded in nicely.

At this point the only thing I have really thrown any salt in was the water for the leeks. You have to be careful with the seasoning here. The milk and cheese are really going to bring a salt to the fore front of the dish. Easy on the salt. Once the cheese is whisked and melted into your béchamel the sauce is complete. The next step is simple. You are going to be more than ready for it after standing over the oven that has been pre-heating to 400 degrees.

Simply pour the sauce over the leeks. Give a little shake or pound to the dish to make sure the sauce makes it through the leeks. Here is your chance for seasoning. I threw a proper pinch of sea salt on top and cracked some pepper. It came out great! The leeks really had a sweetness that I didn’t expect. A baby leek should do even better.

I treated this as a side dish and had it accompany a nice couple of chicken breasts. Two tablespoons of butter with about a half a cup of cream to baste with (all in one sauté pan at a simmer) went great with the creamy leeks. A little sea salt on top and some crushed black pepper. I also shredded a little cheese to top the chicken with (maybe a squeeze of lemon for balance). This all just sort of came to me when I figured my son was probably going to need something else on his plate. He enjoyed it all and I was pleased to see him eat something from the onion family so eagerly.

Have some fun with the dish. I sure did and just remember. The main map and path is there. Give it a go as true to form as you can at least once. Get an idea of where it is supposed to end up. If you think it could use a little something; feel free! This idea of cooking is intended to be fun. My family knows, as well as I do, it doesn’t always end up the way you like. All the reason to take that idea you had and find where it went wrong. The flavors will come, and for me, the simpler the better. In fact, it takes some good restraint to keep it simple. More often than not the ingredients speak for themselves. Smiles at the dinner table with your family are a good way to end any day.

A good friend of mine (who happened to develop this site) and I agree likes to say, “Food can always be just the ingredient you are looking for to make any occasion special!”