I was making Paula Wolfert’s straw potato cakes stuffed with braised leeks for a dinner party one night when the giant pancake, which had always been so reliable, shattered into a dozen pieces when I tried to flip it in the pan. The crisp, brown shards would not go back together. In a panic, I served the stuffing by itself as a side course. And the dish of plain, rich creamed leeks zapped with quite a lot of freshly ground pepper turned out to be more popular with my friends than the more complicated version ever had been. I think the slight sweetness and the autumnal flavor fits perfectly in a Thanksgiving dinner, halfway between a vegetable and a condiment, right in the place where some of my fancy acquaintances like to serve elaborately prepared pearl onions. Some Thanksgivings I like the leeks even more than I do the well-garlicked string beans and the caramelized Brussels sprouts with bacon.
Trim and discard the roots and dark-green parts from each leek. Halve each leek lengthwise and wash well under running water, fanning the layers and making sure to rinse off every hidden bit of sand. Slice the leeks finely crosswise – there should be 8 to 10 cups.
In a large, heavy saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat – it will be more than you think you need. Stir in the leeks and a pinch or two of salt. After a couple of minutes, stir in the rest of the butter.
Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for about 20 minutes – the leeks will have all but melted. Do not let them brown.
Stir in the cream, increase the heat to medium and gently simmer, stirring occasionally until thickened.
Grind pepper over the top and stir again. Serve.