I love endives. (Maybe not as much as Emily, who brought home two kilos of the stuff as a souvenir of Paris. Odd girl.)
I love them raw, one leaf peeled off at a time, perfect for scooping rough houmous or smooth goat’s cheese. Chopped into stubby ribbons and tossed with balsamic vinegar and maple syrup. Tucked up neatly in a blanket of ham and bechamel, baked until crispy.
On our gourmet tour of Brussels – another family eating – we had steak tartare, mussels cooked with white wine, butter and celery, fat twice-fried chips and a rich mustardy beef stew called carbonnade. All at one dinner. So I tasted everything. Shuddered a little at the chopped raw meat. Then abandoned the Belgian fries (which just doesn’t sound right: French fries? freedom fries?) for the little side dish with its blackened edges, hiding silken endives, pink ham and mashed potatoes under its final glorious layer of toasted cheese.
Ditch all the frills and fries and make a platter of baked endives for supper. Proudly make a bechamel sauce, then mop it up with the last of the baguette. Fight over the extra-crispy edges. Finally, because dinner was only vegetables after all, go out for waffles. The most perfect light crackly waffles with just a snowfall of icing sugar. Roll home.
Endives au gratin
serves 2 greedy girls
4 slices delicious cooked ham
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
50g freshly grated cheese (parmesan or gruyere are nice)
salt and pepper
(The proper recipe requires pre-baked endives for an extra smooth and sweet texture. So if you can be bothered: halve the endives, place in a baking dish with a glug of white wine and salt and pepper, cover with tin foil and bake for 20 minutes until wilted.)
Cut each endive in half along its length. Cut the slices of ham in half as well and wrap them snugly around each endive half. Place them in one single layer in a baking dish that is only just big enough.
Now make your bechamel. Melt the butter in a large-ish saucepan. Add the flour and whisk to incorporate. Keep whisking over a medium heat until the butter and flour – called a roux – smells slightly nutty. The flour needs to be cooked through, for flavour and for the bechamel to thicken properly. Slowly add the milk while continuing to whisk. Cook gently – still whisking – without allowing it to boil until the liquid is as thick as double cream. Add salt and pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Taste!
Pour the bechamel over the blanketed endives and sprinkle liberally with grated parmesan/gruyere.
Bake in a hot oven (200C) until brown and crispy.