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This creamy and comforting leek bake is the perfect winter side dish. You can make it for Thanksgiving, Christmas (or just whenever you’re craving something rich and creamy!) – it’s a perfect alternative to cauliflower cheese or macaroni cheese!
Obviously, being from the UK, we don’t have Thanksgiving. However, we do always love leeks at Christmas – especially buttery, creamy, cheesy leeks! From what I know about Thanksgiving, this leek bake should really go down a treat. After all, it’s slightly different to your traditional side dishes, but still seasonal and comforting! In fact, I’d say that leeks are a really under-appreciated vegetable – they’re so good!
I decided to make a small 4-portion version. However, you can easily double it if you’re feeding a crowd of hungry family members! These cheesy leeks are also perfect for students to make and share during the holidays – providing you have access to an oven!
What should I serve with creamy leeks?
It’s perfect comfort food – best served with crispy sausages or glazed pork chops plus some roasted or steamed veggies! It’s creamy, cheesy and has crispy breadcrumbs on top – almost like a leek version of macaroni cheese!
You could just eat it as-is, of course. When I tested it the first time, that’s what we did!
Is this side dish hard to make?
The only downside that I can think of to this creamy leek bake is that it takes a bit of washing up. After all, you need one pan for softening the leeks, one pan for the white sauce and then a dish to bake it in. Overall, it isn’t a disastrous amount of washing up, but it’s certainly not a one-pan wonder! Especially as it’s a side dish.
If you have a skillet then you could cut down the washing up a little by softening the leeks in it and then pouring over the sauce and baking it inside the skillet. You might want to cut down the oven temperature for this, but if you don’t have a dishwasher then it’ could well be worth a try!
How to make cheesy leeks
While this creamy leek bake does require a little bit of fiddling in making the white sauce (it’s not hard, you just need to keep whisking!), it’s actually really easy.
- Start softening your leeks with butter in a pan. Let them soften enough that they’re cooked but still have some nice texture.
- Add leeks to a baking dish and allow them to cool slightly.
- In a saucepan, melt some butter over medium-low heat.
- Add the flour and whisk until combined. Keep whisking constantly for 1 minute to let the flour cook.
- Add the milk a little at a time, whisking until smooth and combined before adding more.
- Season and let it cook gently until thickened to your liking, whisking constantly.
- Pour the sauce over the leeks.
- Top with grated cheese and panko breadcrumbs.
- Bake until breadcrumbs are golden and crispy.
Leftovers & Substitute Ingredients
Another advantage of this leek bake is that you can reheat leftovers – hooray for less food waste! Just store your leftovers in the fridge until cool and then cover. They’ll keep for up to 3 days. When you’re ready to eat, just portion out the amount you want and microwave it until piping hot!
Reheating it may soften the leeks a little more, as well as possibly leaving you with soggy breadcrumbs. However, I’d still say that it tasted good! One other thing to be aware of is that the sauce may split – this means that the fat separates out. You’ll be left with a thick, slightly lumpy sauce and pools of melted butter if this happens. Don’t worry, it’s still completely fine to eat – just not quite as good as when it’s fresh from the oven!
I am afraid that while this recipe is completely vegetarian, it’s certainly not dairy-free or vegan! You could try using a vegan béchamel recipe instead of my white sauce and swapping out butter for olive oil too. Of course, you’d also need to use vegan cheese to top it… it might possibly be better to try a naturally vegan leek side dish instead!
What equipment is needed to make this creamy leek bake?
There are quite a few bits and bobs that you’ll need, but most of them are kitchen essentials. After all, the whole recipe starts with measuring your ingredients, so you’ll need kitchen scales (for the cheese and panko), a measuring jug for the milk and a set of measuring spoons for your thyme and plain flour.
Getting these precise measurements is important for good results as the last thing you want is to mess up your bechamel because you added too much milk or the wrong ratio of butter and flour!
You’ll also want to be using a chef’s knife (or your preferred knife from a decent set) to chop your leeks. This, of course, goes hand in hand with a cutting board. Most people use a wooden one, although these scoop ones are super convenient and I usually use those.
You’ll probably want to use a large frying pan to cook your leeks. A cast-iron skillet would work well as well since it should speed up the cook time. You’ll also want a silicone spoon to stir them for even cooking.
Then, of course, a saucepan and whisk for the creamy bechamel sauce. Add in a regular box grater for the cheddar and you’re almost there! All you should need now is a square pyrex baking dish – this is almost identical to the one I personally used that you can see in the photos above!
Equipment Recommendations for those in the UK
Creamy Leek Bake
For the leeks:
- 4 large leeks washed, trimmed and sliced into rounds
- 50 grams butter softened
- salt and pepper
- 50 grams cheddar grated
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 30 grams panko breadcrumbs
For the bechamel sauce:
- 3 tbsp butter softened
- 1.5 tbsp plain flour all-purpose flour
- 275 ml milk
- salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
- Melt butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the sliced leeks to the pan with the butter and allow them to soften, stirring occasionally, for around 10 minutes until soft but still with a little bite. Season to taste and tip them into a square casserole dish.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter for the sauce. Once melted, add the flour and whisk constantly and quickly. Cook over medium heat for one minute.
- Begin to gradually add the milk a little at a time, whisking until fully combined before adding more. Once all the milk has been added, continue to whisk and allow the sauce to thicken until thick enough to leave a trail when whisking.
- Remove from heat, season to taste and pour evenly over the leeks. Top with grated cheddar, dried thyme and the breadcrumbs.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until hot through and the breadcrumbs are lightly golden. Serve immediately
- leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days and reheated in the microwave until piping hot
- 1 clove minced garlic can be added to the pan with the leeks if you like a strong garlic and onion flavour
- The sauce may split, burn or become grainy if you add the milk too quickly or don’t whisk enough. You need to whisk constantly and quickly for it to consistently turn out well – but it’s worth it!
- If the sauce does split, burn or become grainy, it’s best to simply try again in a new pan – don’t waste time trying to salvage it because I’m afraid it won’t work! (if you’re too worried about getting the sauce right, just use jarred white sauce – it’s not as good but the end product still tastes great!)
If you’re looking for recommendations for what to serve this with, try any of these:
- paprika and sage butter roast chicken
- puff pastry pie with chicken, ham and mushrooms
- ginger ham with southern glaze
- garlic roasted sweet potatoes
For more creamy and comforting side dishes, try my fresh herb risotto (or the version made in the microwave). It’s best in Spring and Summer when fresh herbs are more in season, so essentially the opposite time of year to this recipe!
My other favourite comforting side dish would have to be my cheesy garlic butter pinwheels and the accompanying pizza versions – they’re so tasty! The garlic butter melts together with the cheese and buttery pastry – just trust me, they’re basically heaven.