A Vegetable With Secrets

A Vegetable With Secrets

Ahoy Foodies!

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. 

Crab and Endive Gratin with Comté
Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a hot appetizer
1 cup milk
1 bay leaf
2 thyme sprigs
1 small garlic clove, peeled and lightly smashed
3 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons flour
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 tablespoons vermouth (I love Vya)
Salt and ground white pepper
2 tablespoons snipped chives
8 ounces crab meat
1 endive, trimmed and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
1/2 cup grated Comté or Gruyere cheese
Preheat oven to 400°F. Smear 1 tablespoon of butter in 4 appetizer-size gratin dishes and place them on a rimmed baking sheet.
In a small microwave-safe cup, combine the milk, bay leaf, thyme, and garlic. Microwave until the milk is hot, about 2 minutes. Set aside and allow the milk to steep for 10 minutes, or as long as half an hour. Discard bay leaf, thyme, and garlic.
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Add the warm milk, bring to a simmer, and cook until thickened and bubbly, 2 minutes. Allow the sauce to cool for 10 minutes at room temperature. Whisk in the egg yolk, and vermouth. Season with salt, and white pepper to taste. Fold in the crab meat and chives.
Place the endive slices on the bottom of the gratin dishes. Spoon the crab mixture over the endive and top everything with the cheese. Bake until golden brown and bubbly around the edges, 20 minutes. Switch on the broiler and broil until the tops are crusty and brown in places, 1 minute.  Serve warm with warm, crispy bread sticks or baguette.

All text and photos are copyright 2010 by Ivy Manning and Gregor Torrence.

5 Responses to A Vegetable With Secrets

  1. V Hoyt March 12, 2011 at 12:12 AM #

    Bless you. Of the many many culinary things (not to mention all the other things) my mother introduced to me, endive is one of my favorites. It also reminds me of her, whenever I have it. Simply braised. In a salad with radicchio. In every way, it is one of my favorite vegetables.

    I am a recent follower of the blog, having found it via Kitchn. I’m enjoying it very much.

  2. Ivy March 12, 2011 at 12:29 AM #

    Thanks for stopping by, V! I’m glad you saw the bit on Kitchn, and also glad you listen to endive too!


  3. Molly March 14, 2011 at 2:54 PM #

    We’re going to Belgium next month and I am so excited to see how they use endive in dishes over there. In the meantime, I will enjoy this recipe. Yum!

  4. Ivy March 14, 2011 at 4:30 PM #

    Oh lucky Molly! Belgium would be where endive would be its best, I gather. Why Belgium? Relatives? Addiction to cream chocolates?

  5. Molly March 16, 2011 at 6:26 PM #

    So happy I came back to double check this recipe. We have friends in Rotterdam, so first up is bicycles and tulips. Then off to Belgium to quench our thirst for delicious Belgian beer. Can’t wait!

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