My parents grow leeks in their garden every year with this dish—a classic at our family's Thanksgiving feast—in mind. They like to allow for one leek per person, and the recipe can be easily adjusted to be made bigger or smaller. The leeks get cooked in a small amount of broth and a touch of butter until very tender; this can largely be done by eye. They plump up with juiciness from the broth, and the resulting dish, simple and humble though it may be, is one of my most favorite things on our holiday table. —Erin McDowell
Cut away the dark green parts of the leek (my parents compost this, but it can also be cleaned well and used to make broth). Trim the leeks so that only the lightest green part and the whole white part remain. Trim the bulb end to remove any roots, but keep the bulb end in tact (don’t just lob off the whole end, trim closely).
Cut the leeks in half vertically, leaving about 1 inch in tact on the bulb end. Wash the inside of the leeks well and pat dry. (The leeks can be prepped up to this point, and wrapped in damp paper towels and stored in zip-top plastic bags for up to 5 days.)
Arrange the leeks in a large skillet or pot that has a lid. Pour the broth over the leeks, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Put the lid on the skillet, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer the leeks for 12 to 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a large casserole dish with 1 tablespoon butter. Arrange the leeks in a single layer, or overlapping only slightly, in the prepared casserole dish. Pour the broth over them. Dot the surface with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and season with salt and pepper.
Add the sprigs of thyme to the casserole dish, then transfer to the oven. Cook until the leeks are very tender, 30 to 35 minutes. Garnish with chives just before serving, if desired. Serve warm.
I always carry three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's pie. My first cookbook, The Fearless Baker, is out on October 24, 2017.