Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Recipe CXXI - Chicory au Gratin

Last weekend, I went to Belgium and while there, I did a little light shopping, where I bought a whole load of excellent beers, but I also decided to purchase Belgium's national vegetable, the endive, or chicory. The Flemish call it Witloof; such an extreme departure from its etymological root, which highlights its importance to the Belgian psyche.

I was never a fan of chicory to begin with, so I was already not expecting great things. But I have a policy that every 5 years or so I try food I used to dislike to see if I have changed taste. The answer here is an emphatic "no". I still hate chicory with all my blood. 

If, in the fullness of time, they should ever ask me what my least favourite recipe is, I shall, without a moment's hesitation, point to this one. I can see the conversation thus:

"So, what is your least favourite thing you've ever eaten?"

"Well, out of the deep-fried scorpion on a stick I was given at a Chinese party, the cat poo I accidentally ingested after falling on it, the half-cockroach I found in a sandwich I bought on a market stall in Moscow or the chicory gratin, I'd have to go for the chicory gratin."

It is the devil's vegetable. It is nothing more than the reincarnation of water in vegetable form, and I'd prefer to eat the bark off the trees before even smelling another one of these satanic plants. 

Nevertheless, other people like them, and I thought I should at least share with you the results of my findings.

4 to 6 pieces of chicory
The equivalent amount of slices of ham to wrap around the chicory
2 different sorts of cheese (I used Cheddar and Etorki, but Emmental, Gruyère, or such would also do.
Milk, butter, flour, ground pepper and nutmeg for the roux

Satan's own vegetable

Instructions:Firstly, and most importantly, cut out the base of the chicory to remove the hull. If you leave this bit in, your chicory will taste very, very bitter.

Put the chicory in lightly salted boiling water for between 10 and 15 minutes, until they are soft. 
Put on the grill. 
While this is going on, you can make the sauce. Make a roux by melting some butter in a pan, adding flour and milk as if making Béchamel. 
Add nutmeg and pepper, then fold in most of the cheese until fully melted into the sauce. 

Once the chicory is soft, remove it and roll it in the ham slice.

Repeat until all of the pieces are wrapped in ham. Put the ham-wrapped chicory in a decently-sized deep baking tray.

Pour the sauce over the top until totally covering the chicory. 

Use some more of the cheese to grate over the top and sprinkle with black pepper.

Put it under the grill for a good 10 to 15 minutes, or until the top is a nice speckled dark pattern.

Serve with mashed potatoes or equivalent.

Invite a Belgian or two round to eat, and you won't have to throw a lot of it away!

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