Confession: This recipe for what we call ‘Witloof’ in Belgium is one that I’ve had for years, I even took the photos of it a long while ago but there was only one thing stopping me from sharing it with you all this time: Belgian endive, also called chicory in the UK, isn’t grown in Ireland (correct me if i’m wrong though) and you can only find imported ones. The only reason i’m sharing it after all, is cause I hope it will inspire people to grow their own at home, or for farmers to start growing it and selling it in Ireland too.
Although you can buy it all year round, the best time to buy Belgian endive would be late September – April.
Now what is this mysterious vegetable? It’s basically bitter cream-coloured leaves, grown completely underground or indoors with no access to sunlight as light will turn the leaves green and will open them up as well. As I said it is quite bitter, but you can remove the the harder inner part of the stem and the bottom of the head to make it less bitter.
You can eat them raw in salads, boil them, grill them and so on but my favourite way is wrapped with ham and cooked in the oven in a delicious cheese sauce.
If you live in Cork, the big vegetable stall in the English market sells them, if you can’t find them near you, you can substitute it for radicchio as well. If you know of any other places in Ireland or the UK that sell it, please let me know in the comments.
Belgian endive/chicory with ham & cheese sauce in the oven (dairy-free, gluten-free)
- 8 small pieces of Belgian Endive
- 8 slices of thick cut cooked ham
- 6 dl oat, soy or rice milk
- 100g salted sunflower or soy spread (butter alternative)
- 100g all purpose gluten-free flour
- 250g grated cheese (can be dairy free)
- teaspoon of nutmeg
- pepper & salt
- Optional: 2 tablespoons of parsley
- *For a dairy & gluten alternative, you can substitute for milk, butter and flour in the same quantities
Start by washing the endive, then cut out a part of the bottom part but avoid the leaves from falling out, so only cut out a few millimeters. If you're worried about bitterness you can also slice them in half and remove the center as well and then just put two pieces in each ham slice later on.
Bring water with salt to a boil and add endive.
Cook until soft, about 15-20 minutes.
Drain well, we want to remove all the water if possible so give them a squeeze with a kitchen towel if needed (careful not to burn your hands).
Heat up butter in a frying pan and fry the endive with a pinch of pepper and salt for a couple of minutes, until they start to brown. If you're still concerned about bitterness you can add a drop of honey on each endive as well.
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Wrap each endive in ham and place them in a casserole while we make our cheese sauce!
Melt butter at low heat in a pot, once it's melted add flour gradually and whisk vigorously. The flour will dry out the butter so it'll now start to look and smell like pastry, once it does, gradually add milk and whisk continuously to avoid lumps.
Stir in 3/4 of the cheese and season with nutmeg and pepper and pour over the ham & endive rolls.
Add remaining grated cheese on top and pop in the oven until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Best served with delicious potato mash!