A versatile winter vegetable takes spotlight, warms the table


While walking through the produce section of a neighborhood market several days ago, I spotted a large display of Belgian endive. In season throughout the cold-weather months, the white and pale green bulbs were a bargain, so I picked up a bagful and tossed them into my cart.

Typically I slice endive and add it to mixed-green salads for a slightly bitter accent. Or I mound the leaves with blue cheese and toasted walnuts and offer them as appetizers. This time I decided to cook the endive.

First, the endive was chopped, then sprinkled with a little sugar and sauteed in butter until tender and lightly caramelized. The cooked endive was then transferred to a baking dish and topped with grated Gruyere cheese, a lightly beaten egg, a small amount of creme fraiche and a pinch of nutmeg. After only a quarter-hour in the oven, the cheese melted and formed a beautiful golden crust.

I served this with slices of sauteed, baked ham, but it would be equally tempting as a garnish for broiled lamb chops, sauteed veal, pan-fried scallops or roasted chicken.

This dish is quite versatile and does not require a long time to prepare. It can be completely assembled several hours in advance and refrigerated so that it is ready for baking when you need it.

Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.

Belgian Endive Baked With Gruyere

Serves 4 with very generous portions; 6 with smaller servings

1 1/2 pounds Belgian endive (about 5)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter plus extra for greasing the baking dish

1 tablespoon sugar

kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup water, plus more if needed

1 cup (4 ounces) coarsely grated Gruyere or Emmentaler cheese

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1/4 cup creme fraiche or two tablespoons sour cream whisked with 2 tablespoons whipping cream (see Note)

scant 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped flatleaf parsley

Rinse endive in cold running water to clean, then pat dry with a clean kitchen towel. Cut off and discard 1 quarter inch of leaf from the base of each endive. Halve endive leaves lengthwise. Cut each half crosswise, into 1-inch pieces.

Heat butter in large, lidded, heavy skillet over medium heat. When butter is hot, add sliced endive and sprinkle with sugar and season generously with 1/2 teaspoon salt and several grindings of pepper. Stir constantly until endive starts to wilt and is lightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir in 1/2 cup water. Cover pan tightly with a lid. Cook covered until endive is tender when pierced with a sharp knife, about 12 minutes. Check several times while endive is cooking. If mixture starts to brown too much, add 2 to 3 tablespoons more water.

Remove pan from heat. Taste endive and correct seasoning, if needed. Grease a medium (2-quart) oven-to-table baking dish generously with butter. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked endive to the baking dish.

In medium bowl, stir together the cheese, egg, creme fraiche or sour cream and whipping cream, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper and nutmeg until well blended. Spread on top of cooked endive. (The gratin can be prepared to this point 2 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before baking.)

Bake gratin in center of 400-degree oven, uncovered, until hot and cheese has melted and started to brown lightly, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with parsley. Serve hot.

Note: Creme fraiche is available in some markets. You could also substitute 1 cup whipping cream and 1/3 cup sour cream. Whisk cream and sour cream together in a medium nonreactive bowl. Let stand at warm room temperature 8 hours or longer until thickened. Cover and refrigerate. Can be stored up to 1 week, covered, in the refrigerator.

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