Saturday, December 27, 2014

Endive and Ham Gratin

This is a luxurious way to prepare Belgian endive. If you're like me you usually only use the little endive leafs as cups for appetizers and tapas. But after reading several posts from good cooks like David Lebovitz who resides in France, I decided to purchase Belgian endive at the next opportunity and prepare it as a winter side dish.

As luck would have it, our local market had fresh Belgian endive and not even in a package, but loose so I could sort through and select the best and most uniform sized specimens. Uniformity really is key to even cooking. I prefer the larger ones as two of this size are perfect even as an entree. As these tend to be rich and delicious you really can serve them as the main dish with a simple side of good rice or other green vegetable. I wrapped my in thinly sliced prosciutto and combined with the cheese sauce, there really is plenty of protein in this manly vegetable dish.

I don't recommend a lot of sauce as they will be plenty rich with just a little. However it’s hard to make a very small batch of creamy cheese sauce, so I included a recipe that makes 2 cups. I used less than 1 and saved the rest for broccoli which I'm serving later in the week.  The classic dish prepared in most of France doesn't include cheese in the sauce itself but rather just uses a white sauce called b├ęchamel. It's just melted butter with a little flour, salt and white pepper worked in over moderate heat and then milk is added to make a rich velvety sauce. This is actually the base for most cheese sauces, so I stirred in about a 1/4 cup of the cheddar cheese, and reserved the rest to sprinkle on top.

As for serving size, as I noted above it you have larger endive and want to make this a main course, serve two per person with the ham and cheese sauce. A simple side will make a meal as the sauce is very rich.  If you are watching your weight, then plain butter-braised Belgian endive spears are great without the sauce. If you are feeding vegetarians, then omit prosciutto. The below recipe makes dinner for 4 (two per person as a main dish) or side dishes for 8 (one per person). I halved it for dinner for two.

For the endive and ham gratin:

2 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
8 Belgian endive spears
3 tablespoons water
juice of 1/2 lemon
8 thin slices of ham, such as prosciutto
3/4 cup grated cheese (most kinds will do, I used cheddar)

For the cheese sauce:

2 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk or half & half
1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
pinch salt
pinch white pepper

Preheat the oven to 325F. Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a heatproof and flameproof baking dish or a skillet, on the cook top over medium high heat.

Trim any brown ends on the endive begin careful to only remove the very thinnest slice so as to keep all the leaves attached. Add the endive spears to the melted butter and cook, turning them occasionally, until they are browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total.

Add the water and lemon juice to the baking dish, cover the endive with a piece of parchment paper, and bake the endives in the oven until fully cooked. They’re done when you pierce one with the tip of a sharp paring knife, and it meets no resistance. Small to medium endives will take about an hour. Larger ones may take 15 minutes longer. While they cook, make the sauce.

To make the sauce, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and when the mixture begins to bubble, cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk, while whisking, until it’s all incorporated. Continue to cook the sauce at a low boil for 4 to 5 minutes, until it’s thickened. Remove from heat and mix in the salt and white pepper. Set aside. (You can make the sauce up to 2 days in advance, and chill it until ready to use. Warm and add a little more milk if necessary for proper sauce consistency.)

Remove the endives from the oven and increase the heat to 350F. Let cool for 15 minutes or until you can handle them. Remove from baking dish and empty any liquid from the dish.

Wrap each one with a piece of ham and set them in a single layer back in the baking dish. Spoon the sauce over the spears and top with the rest of the grated cheese  Bake until the cheese is melted and the top is browned, about 30 minutes. Remove and serve.

Storage: The endives can be cooked 2-3 days before being wrapped in ham, and baked in sauce.

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