Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Belgian Endive: A Few Tidbits and a Tasty Dish

Interesting Tidbits:
  • According to legend, Belgian endive was accidentally discovered during the Belgian Revolution in 1830. Before being forced to leave his farm in Schaarbeek, Jan Lammers had planted chicory roots under a layer of soil in a dark cellar. He was quite surprised when upon his return, he discovered that the roots had sprouted and grown white leaves. Lammers tasted the leaves and really liked their flavor. A few decades later, the product had made its way to every table in Belgium.
  • Belgian endive was first introduced in Paris in 1872. There, people were so enthusiastic about it, that it was nicknamed 'white gold'. Interestingly enough, the cultivation of the vegetable took off in France only after World War I. Farmers who fled Belgium took their chicory roots with them and began cultivating the plant there. 
  • It wasn't until the1970s that the production of Belgian endive took off in the Netherlands. Today, the Dutch serve it as a side dish, in salads or in casseroles with cheese and ham. 
  • Outside of Europe, Belgian endive is regarded as a delicacy by many respected chefs. In fact, it is ranked right up there with the likes of caviar, truffle and saffron! 
  • The vegetable is rich in vitamins and minerals such as Folate, Vitamin A and Vitamin K.

Gratin of Belgian Endive
Serves 4

8 Belgian endives
8 slices of ham
60g butter
60g all-purpose flour
400ml whole warm milk
1 shallot, halved
1 bay leaf
freshly-grated nutmeg
white pepper
fleur de sel
70g grated Gruy√®re

Preheat the oven to 220C. Using a sharp knife, remove the bitter ends (and core) of the vegetable. Steam the Belgian endive for 5 minutes. Wrap each piece in a slice of ham and place in a butter casserole. To make the bechamel sauce, melt the butter and whisk in the flour until you have a paste. Slowly add the warm milk as you continue to whisk. Add the shallot, bay leaf, nutmeg and salt and pepper. Cook gently for 6 minutes. Stir in the cheese. Pour the sauce over the Belgian endives, finish with a little more cheese and bake for about 30 minutes. Serve with mashed potatoes.

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