Let’s Lunch: Leek Gratin

leek gratin

When he graduated nine years ago, M left Switzerland not only with two degrees and a skillset for the 21st-century, but also a recipe for a very simple side dish involving leeks, cream and grated cheese, all brought to life with a dash of nutmeg. That something so conceptually simple could produce a dish with so much flavor is a process that always astounds me each time this turns up at our dinner table. And trust me, it turns up a lot.

With Christmas barely two weeks away, my fellow lunchers and I are serving up an array of side dishes for the holiday season. Having most recently making its appearance at this meal, I thought it most appropriate to share the recipe for this leek gratin in a follow-up post. Basic blogging etiquette, non?

fresh leeks

M’s Leek Gratin
Makes 4 servings

The key to the success of this dish is in thickening the cream over medium heat for an extended period of time, ensuring that you end up with luscious layers of leeks and cheese, instead of a pool of liquid cream. The amount of cheese stated in this recipe is a mere guide; depending on the size of your casserole, you may need to use more or less than the amount stated in the recipe to achieve a thick, caramelized crust. We serve it with steaks, roasts and grilled fish.

2 large leeks (2-2½ lbs untrimmed weight), trimmed of leaves and roots and sliced into discs 1-inch thick
1½ cups heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper
1½ to 2 cups grated parmesan or gruyére

Blanch the leeks by placing the discs in a large pot with enough water to cover. Add a big pinch of coarse sea salt, cover and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and let the leeks simmer, uncovered for about 5 minutes.

Drain the leeks, reserving 4 tablespoons of cooking liquid, and set aside. Once the leeks are cool enough to handle, quarter each disc and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375F. In a large skillet, combine the cooking liquid and cream over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent a skin from forming. You will want to thicken the cream as much as possible here, so this step should take at least 30 minutes. The cream is ready when its bubbles break the surface less easily and appear to be smothered by a thick layer of cream (see image below for an example).

At this point, add the nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste, and the leeks, stirring to break down any chunks and to coat every strand of leek with cream, about 5 minutes.

Turn off the heat and transfer everything to your casserole, filling any empty spots and flattening the top. Generously sprinkle the cheese all over the surface until there’s not a leek to be seen. Don’t worry if the cheese clumps together – they will caramelize in the oven to give you gorgeous deep brown spots. Place in the oven for 20 minutes or until the gratin turns golden brown.

Leave to rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

leek gratin

Want to join us on our monthly lunch dates? Just tweet a message with the hashtag #Letslunch, or comment below. As usual, don’t forget to check out what my fellow lunchers whipped up today:


  1. lindsey kimball

    I must be a little dyslexic — when I first read this I thought it said Greek Latin, and might be an homage to the classics! Sounds delish, though, and I look forward to trying it out. Thanks.

  2. Catherine Aygen

    Danielle I need your and M’s help! This dish looked sooo good I had to try it. But here in France we don’t have heavy cream (you would think the French would have every type of cream wouldn’t you?) I bought something called whole thick cream but it was more like creme fraiche and it just refused to thicken. Maybe I added too much cooking liquid, but I suspect it was the cream. Please help me! Or ask M what he would use when making this dish in France.
    Thank you, from the English girl who’s missing double cream

    • Danielle

      @Catherine: he uses the 20 cl whole cream (creme entiere) from Elle et Vire. To thicken it, you have to let it bubble for a bit but it takes about 10 minutes for the cream to get to that stage. Let me know how it turns out!

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    • Danielle

      Hi Sheri, I believe the equivalent you should be using is just whipping cream as the UK’s double cream apparently has a much higher butterfat content (48%) than the heavy whipping cream we use in the US (between 36-40%). See this discussion for more details. In terms of scaling up, yes you can double the quantities of ingredients in the recipe, I would just avoid layering the leeks too thickly in your baking dish, best to keep to a maximum depth of 1 to 1.5 inches. Enjoy!

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