One of my favorite words, nay, one of my favorite vegetables and words is endive. It’s pronounced “en-dive” in the United States, but across the pond they have the class and sense to say “ahn-deev.” So much more aristocratic and fun to say, isn’t it? Ahn-deev.
Befitting the name, Belgian endive is a precious vegetable, if only because a whole lot of effort is expended to produce these compact heads of satiny salad. As they grow, endive hearts are kept tender and mild by growing them in warm growing medium or nutrient rich water. They are hidden away from light to keep the leaves tender and mild, and when they are ready for market, they’re gingerly wrapped in swaddling clothes (waxed paper, actually) to keep the delicate pearly leaves from bruising.
In one of my favorite scenes in the French film Amelie, Lucien, the grocer’s assistant, is shown holding up an endive to his ear, presumably to hear if it is fresh or not, or perhaps to learn a secret. What would an endive tell you, if only you would listen?
It might tell you that you can just slice it and it will make a nice, slightly bitter salad for you. It would tell you that it especially appreciates being paired with rich cheeses like Irish Cashel blue and oily nuts like hazelnuts. It might also point out that it’s leaves have a nice boat-like shape, all the better to use as an appetizer “cup” to hold things like cheese, pears, and nuts; see my recipe for Endive Stuffed With Spanish Goodies in my second book, The Adaptable Feast.
But endive would also probably whisper that it wants to be recognized as so much more than a salad green. Once cooked, it would point out, it’s crisp texture would yield, it’s flavor would soften, and it would become a lovely part of any manner of warm entree dishes as well. If only you would give it a chance.
I myself met a nice forthcoming endive recently, cocked my head and listened. It led me to make this soothing mid-winter gratin: endive + Dungeness crab meat + creamy white sauce+ chives+ Comté cheese. I baked it for awhile, then gave it a trip under the broiler. It was rich, wonderful, and somewhat surprising. Kristine Kidd listens to endive too apparently; she recently added it a risotto and posted the recipe on her blog, and it sounds wonderful. If there’s one woman whose recipes you can trust, it’s the former editor of Bon Appetit, so go and take a look.
Served this wintry mix with warm breadsticks, homemade crackers or baguette. Oh, and endive also told me that it loves a good Sancerre from time to time. If you’re clueless about how to choose a good one (I was), take a look at this excellent article in MIX Magazine by Katherine Cole.
Without further ado, go forth and listen.
2 tablespoons snipped chives
All text and photos are copyright 2010 by Ivy Manning and Gregor Torrence.