Leek and potato bake, a vegetarian comfort food recipe with copious amounts of cheese and a no-effort creamy sauce made with white wine and crème fraiche.
This recipe is a riff on Tartiflette, the classic Alpine dish of potatoes, onions and bacon baked under a covering of Reblochon cheese. This here is a vegetarian version more suited to the south of England than the French Alps, with leeks replacing the onions and hard grated cheeses mix used instead of Reblochon.
Tartifflette, my lifesaver
I remember one afternoon, a good few years ago, skiing in the French Alps when I got caught in a sudden blizzard quite high up.
My then skiing standards were nursery slope in sunny weather on fluffy snow (they have now upgraded to easy blue on fluffy snow) so I was seriously freaked out, suffering visions of never getting back to the hotel, buried in a snow drift and dying of hypothermia before a St. Bernard dog with a brandy barrel got to rescue me.
I did make it down. Mostly sliding on my bum. I made the last gondola down and dried up in the hotel but I was majorly traumatised and didn’t stop throwing wobblies until a bubbling hot dish of Tartiflette was put in front of me and all ended well.
Thus any dish involving potatoes, alliums, cheese and cream always invokes in me a sense of comfort and safety. All is well, nothing bad can happen when a plate of that kind of food is on the table.
Recipe with a pre-recipe
I know – those dishes that require a whole cooking pre-process like boiling potatoes are a bit of a con.
And you never, ever have cooked, leftover potatoes in a large enough quantity to procure a whole new dish. And even if you set out to cook enough so you had a handsome portion left, would you really want another potato dish on the following day? I know I wouldn’t.
And even though you apparently can freeze cooked potatoes, it’s the level of kitchen planning and organisation that escapes most of us. Remembering to cook twice as much, taking the trouble of freezing the surplus and then actually remembering you have them in the freezer? Far too much to expect.
But on a more leisurely weeknight, when perhaps you’re home early, or as a meal prep for the freezer at the weekend, this is a wonderfully comforting recipe to follow.
And anyway, potatoes take only about half an hour or so to cook so let’s not exaggerate the time required here.
Cook leeks while potatoes cool
While the potatoes are cooking and then cooling slightly – they could be ready to use straight away but you’ll risk second degree scalding - cook the leeks, sliced not too thinly.
They should be just browned quickly, with a lot of bite left in them, since oven baking will soften them further.
The best aromatics to go with them will be garlic, fresh dill and fresh mint. In season, make sure you add some wild garlic to them, if any grows in your locality – that’s an awesome pairing.
No sauce! Just crème fraiche
But once that pre-cooking cooking is done, that’s almost it.
The recipe doesn’t require you to stir bechamel for hours or even make a roux. Crème fraiche is this wonderful kind of dairy that makes a not too rich sauce without curdling, and can be added right before the dish goes into the oven.
Just get a large gratin dish and butter it thoroughly.
I like to layer the potatoes alternately with the leeks, adding dollops of crème fraiche and grated cheese in between layers, like a mad potato lasagne. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with mixing everything together, loading it into the dish and smothering with crème and cheese on top.
Either way though, make sure you slosh some dry white wine or stock over or it might end up a little too scorched and not creamy enough.
Baking takes up to half an hour, and you can shower some grated Parmesan indulgently over the top of the dish halfway through the baking time.
Out of the oven, rest the bake a while before tucking in.
More potato bakes
Hasselback potatoes with cheese and cream, baked into a crusty gratin. This must be the best potato gratin recipe, made with cheesy hasselbacks and you don’t need to master the ‘almost slice’ hasselback technique so the recipe is really easy.
Potato and cabbage gratin, herby with sage and dill, cheesy with Gruyere or Cheddar. Rich, warming and absolutely comforting – it’s an oven-baked antidepressant!
Potato and fennel gratin, a super-comfort dish of sliced potatoes and fennel baked in garlicky cream and a generous sprinkle of Gruyere or Cheddar.
More leek dishes
Leek and mushroom penne pasta bake with mascarpone and mozzarella. It's easy, it's cheesy; it's veggie, it's crispy - it's an ultimate comfort pasta bake.
Halibut fillet steamed atop braised leeks and carrots, the best cooking method for halibut. Healthy, tasty, and only one pan to wash up!
Creamy chicken with mushrooms and leeks; one pan dish great with pasta. Tender chicken pieces cooked in creamy sauce, with caramelised leeks and mushrooms.