Easy cheesy baked leeks in Bechamel sauce
Like we mentioned in our last post, the winter finally came to Greece. This finally happened just before the arrival of 2016 (Happy New Year to all of you guys!). You see, in Christmas day, we had lots of sun and high temperatures, just like in autumn, which was rather annoying! So, on the New Year's Eve, not only this had changed, but we did get some snow as well! It was so beautiful, waking up in the New Year and seeing this white blanket of snow that had fallen, right outside the windows. Snowing is rare in Athens; it only occurs in the north of the city maybe once or twice per year and only lasts for a couple of days each time. So you can imagine how happy we both were!
As you may have already guessed, yes, we went to Evia as well. We spent Christmas there, and had the opportunity to enjoy all the seasonal produce. We enjoyed some lettuce, young onions, arugula, endives, dill, parsley, fennel, leeks, beets, broccoli, cabbage, oranges, lemons, clementines and many more, fresh, organic treasures. The earth can give back so much if you take the time and respect it.
Since we were there, we had the chance to visit one of our favorite mountain villages of the island; Steni. This is where those photos in the post were taken. Also known as Steni Dirfyos, this is a beautiful place in the slopes of mount Dirfi. The summit (1743m/5718ft) is close to the village, making it the ideal base for hiking and climbing. In the weekends, when there's more people visiting, you can see yayades (grandmas) selling some wonderful local products in the village, like pine and wildflower honey, traditional pasta, dry herbs, herbal tea and mushrooms. We've tried all of those and all are truly amazing. Pure, excellent quality stuff.
The place is also known for its taverns and grills, serving pit roasted lamb and pork and other grilled delicacies. Imagine having enjoyed the small mountain town charm, being misty and cold outside and you're sitting by a tavern's fireplace, listening to the cracking of the burning logs, while having some pork steaks, tzatziki, feta, fresh French fries and olive oil-oregano grilled bread with a good Greek red wine. It doesn't get any better than that, does it? It's also amazing in the summer, when the place is naturally cool, and you can enjoy those treats under the sycamores. We're daydreaming once again, aren't we?
Having mentioned the Greek wine, this period we also discovered many new Greek labels that are truly amazing. 'Tis (was) the season, after all, right?:) You need to check out the reds Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro, and the whites Assyrtiko, Moschofilero, Savatiano and Roditis. We can start writing some articles and propose a few of our favorite Greek labels in the future if you like though. It's something we're still thinking about; let us know if you're interested in the comments below.
As you imagined, we ate lots and lots of food in the Holiday season, had lots of good wine, and -of course- enjoyed MANY kourabiedes and melomakarona. We also baked Panos' mom old family recipe for vasilopita (this will be our post for the Holidays next year) which was amazing! It makes for a fluffy, moist cake, with a unique vanilla-orange scent. Suffice to say, we devoured the whole thing within 3 to 4 days! So yep. We gained some extra pounds and are now struggling to lose some of them (and failing miserably!) :)
One of the things we brought back from Evia, were the fresh leeks. We love leeks ourselves and we already had a recipe on the blog, which was shared when we first started so naturally, most of you guys missed it. It was "hidden" as an old post, popping out here and there (in the "See also" section and embarrassing us with its awful photo) and we've always wanted to rewrite that one, to do it some justice.
So here it is (again): leeks au gratin! What is this dish about? It's a recipe for leeks in cream sauce, a vegetarian leek casserole we LOVE to bake during the fall and winter! If you're looking for a recipe for baked leeks with cream or simply want some cheesy baked leeks, then look no more. You have arrived at your destination:) We honestly cannot describe how amazing these creamy leeks are.
Here's what we do; we cut and wash the leeks thoroughly. We will mostly use the white part in this recipe. You can wash and freeze the green part for stocks or other recipes requiring it. Using the white part of 4-5 large leeks, we slice them in half lengthwise and then vertically in half-moons, and then put them in a large bowl of water to wash. We finally rinse them in a colander and they're ready to use. Here's a video showing you how to clean and cut leeks in case you've never tried it before.
So, after preparing them, we cook them in olive oil until soft, add some wine, and after most of the juices have evaporated, we transfer them to a casserole dish, mix them with dill, cheese and béchamel sauce, top them with some more cheese and bake them. The result is a delicious leeks and cheese recipe you will use again and again. It's one of our favorite recipes for baked leeks with cheese, and everyone is elated when we bring it to family gatherings and dinners with friends. Of course, that being the case, every time someone asked for the recipe, so eventually we wrote it down and shared it in our newborn blog back in 2012.
We honestly cannot stress how yummy these easy, cheesy leeks are. The cheese we used was Dubliner. We think that it's the best choice for this dish. Other suitable choices would be a combination of sweet graviera (like graviera from Naxos) for the leeks, with some grated kefalotyri on top, for the crust. If you can't get any of those, you can also use some sharp cheddar with the leeks and a little grated parmesan for the crust.
Keep in mind, that even though they're rich and delicious, baked leeks in cream sauce are also vegetarian. This makes it a perfect choice for Meatless Mondays or if you want to lay off the meat for a while. You won't miss it all. So let's see how to cook some yummy, creamy leeks!
- 1kg/17oz/2lb cleaned leeks (4-5 leeks), mostly white part, cut into half-moon slices (approx. 1cm/0.5in thick)*
- 55-65gr/2-2.3oz (about 1 cup) dill, finely chopped
- 125ml (1/2 cup) extra virgin olive oil
- 3 medium sized eggs, beaten
- 300gr/10.5oz Dubliner cheese, grated **
- 250ml (1 cup) white wine
- salt and pepper
*4-5 uncleansed whole leeks weigh almost twice as much when you buy them, they'll be about 2kb/4lb
**You can also use graviera or sharp cheddar for the leeks
For the creamy topping (Béchamel sauce):
- 75gr/2.6oz (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon or 8 tablespoons in total) all-purpose flour
- 100gr butter/3.5oz (7 tablespoons) butter
- 750ml (3 cups) milk, room temperature
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, powdered
- 55-80gr/2-2.8oz Dubliner cheese, grated ( for the crust) ***
***You can also use kefalotyri or parmesan
Use mostly the white part of the leeks. Wash them thoroughly; slice them in half lengthwise and then vertically in half-moons (pic. 1) and place them in a large bowl of water (pic.2). Stir. The dirt will sit on the bottom of the bowl.
Remove the chopped leeks with your hands and place them in a colander (pic.3 , don’t empty the bowl into the colander, you don’t want to put the dirt on the leeks again). Rinse them thoroughly. The leeks are now ready for the recipe! Here's a video showing you exactly how to clean and cut the leeks in case you've never tried it before.
Put the olive oil in a large skillet (don't use nonstick)/saucepan, and place it over medium to high heat. When hot, add the leeks (pic. 4) and sauté for 10 minutes until soft.
Pour the wine (pic. 5) and increase the heat. Cook for another 3-4 minutes until most of the wine is evaporated, and the final result is relatively drier. Empty the saucepan into a casserole dish/baking pan (pic. 6)
Add the dill (pic. 7). Stir well and leave it aside for 4-5 minutes to cool down. Keep the saucepan aside; you’ll use it for the Béchamel as well. Preheat your oven at 180C/350F. Add the eggs (pic. 8), stir and add salt and pepper. Be careful adding the salt, because of the salty cheese that’ll be added.
Add the cheese (pic. 9) and mix. Leave it aside to prepare the cheesy Béchamel sauce. Add the butter (pic 10) in the saucepan and place over medium heat
Once melted, add the flour (pic. 11). Whisk continuously until you get a thick result (a paste). Slowly start adding the milk (pic. 12) and continue whisking.
When all the milk has been added, remove from heat. You’ll get a creamy, smooth sauce (pic. 13). Add the nutmeg powder and give it a final stir. Add the sauce into the casserole/baking dish on top of the leeks mixture (pic. 14).
Spread evenly on the surface, and sprinkle with the cheese (pic. 15). Place in the middle oven rack, and bake for 30-35 minutes.
1. Use the white part of the leeks, the green part is a little bitter. You can wash and freeze the green part for other recipes.
2. If you want a very crispy top, you must use finely grated cheese and add a few breadcrumbs as well.
3. If you can’t find Dubliner you can use a combination of graviera (for the leeks), and grated kefalotyri on top (for the crust). If you can't get any of those, you can also use sharp cheddar (for the leeks) and a little grated parmesan (for the crust).
4. You can also use a sweeter white wine or a rosé wine in this recipe.