Two monks came out of the kitchens carrying bowls of small new potatoes, drizzled with butter and chives. Broccoli and sweet squash and casseroles followed. Cutting boards with warm baguettes dotted the long refectory table and platters of cheeses and butter were silently passed up and down the long benches of monks.
The monks, though, took very little. Passing the bowls and bread, but only taking enough to be symbolic.
They had no appetite.
This left Beauvoir in a quandary. He wanted to drop huge spoonfuls of everything onto his plate until he could no longer see above it. He wanted to make an altar of the food, then eat it. All.
When the first casserole, a fragrant cheese and leek dish with a crunchy crumble top, came by he paused, looking at the modest amounts everyone else had taken.
Then he took the biggest scoop he could manage and plopped it onto his plate.
—The Beautiful Mystery
Makes 6 servings
- 4 medium leeks (about 1 pound/450 g)
- 1 cup (3 oz/90 g) grated Cantal, Swiss, or Gruyère cheese
- ½ cup (120 ml) chicken broth
- ¼ cup (62 ml) heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cup coarsely crumbled day-old white bread
- ½ cup (1 oz/30 g) grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375°F (191°C).
Trim the dark green parts and root end from the leeks, leaving just the white and light green parts behind. Halve the leeks lengthwise, then cut each half across into 2-inch (5-cm) or so pieces. Wash thoroughly and drain. Arrange about half the leeks in an even layer in 9 x 9-inch (22 x 22-cm) baking dish. Scatter the Cantal cheese over the leeks. Top with the remaining leeks.
Pour the broth and cream over the leeks. Season with the salt and pepper. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake until the leeks are tender, about 40 minutes.
Pulse the crumbled bread, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil in a food processor just until the bread cubes are broken up and the cheese and oil are blended through. (The pieces of bread should still be quite large.) Taste and add a pinch more of salt and/or pepper if you think it needs it.
Uncover the baking dish, sprinkle the bread mixture over the leeks and bake, uncovered, until the leeks are very tender, the liquid is bubbling and the crumbs are browned, about 20 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.
If your leeks are particularly thick, woody, or out of season, we recommend blanching them before arranging on the dish.