I actually can’t decide what it is, if we’re being honest. A gratin is kind of a creamy baked thing, so I’m starting there. But, this also kind of can be treated like queso, so then it would be an appetizer?
This is modeled after a French casserole my parents used to make: whole leeks wrapped in thin ham and covered with white sauce and somehow potatoes were involved too? I don’t remember it very well, I was six. I mainly remember that I really liked the ham but that cutting the leeks was hard, which is still true today – whole leeks are kind of a card that need to be dealt with. Their flavor is great, but they can get a little stringy if you don’t cut them nicely, ya know?
So we slice them into little half moons and cover them in cheese and garlic and ham and call it a gratin.
This makes enough for about 6 servings, since the leeks cook way down. BUT, we’re involving cheese and butter here, so a smallish serving is plenty. You need leeks! These are trimmed already, but you’ll just want to ditch the dark green tops if you get whole leeks. Then we have some really thin ham, white wine, half and half, butter, garlic, flour, and swiss. The wine and garlic together are especially sexy.
Since leeks grow up from the ground, then tend to get sand in between each of their layers, and gritty food isn’t good. So to clean them, we cut off the tops and bottoms, cut the leek in half lenthwise, then slice it into little half moon shapes.
Thank you, childhood in France, for letting me like leeks as a 6 year old.
- 6 whole leeks, trimmed at both ends
- 1/4 pound thin ham such as serrano, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup half and half
- 6 slices swiss cheese
- salt, to taste
- crusty bread, optional, for dipping
- To clean the leeks, cut the leek in half lengthwise, then slice into little half-moon pieces. Add the leeks to a large bowl with cold water and swish with your hands. Let the leeks sit for 10 minutes so any grit can settle to the bottom, then carefully fish the leeks out of the water without disturbing the bottom of the bowl.
- Preheat the broiler to high and a large ovenproof skillet to medium-high heat. Add the ham with 1 tablespoon of butter and cook for 5 minutes, flipping once, until crispy at the edges. Remove to a plate.
- Add the leeks to the same skillet and cook for 5 minutes until slightly soft. Add the garlic, remaining butter, and sprinkle all over with the flour. Stir the leeks together with the flour - it will be a bit pasty. Add the wine and the half and half and stir everything together - let the mixture reduce by about half so that there is just a bit of gravy around the leeks. Turn the heat off the stove and taste the leeks: add salt or pepper if you'd like. Cover the leeks with the sliced cheese and reserved crispy ham. Broil the entire dish for 3-5 minutes just until the cheese is bubbly.
- Serve as a side dish or with crusty bread for dipping.
- I use a cast iron skillet for this, which can go in the oven, but if you don't have a skillet that can go in the oven just move the leek mixture to a baking dish, then add the cheese and ham on top of that and bake.