|Perfect Belgian endives.|
As with most French recipes with which I am familiar, they start out in a basic way and then the cook at home (or the chef in a restaurant) fine-tunes to make it his or her own.
Since I've learned to live like the French, I try to mostly stay with the vegetables and fruits of the season. One is always rewarded for doing so. Last week, for example, I bought the most exquisite looking strawberries "grown in Spain" and after one bite I realized, once again, why we shouldn't buy strawberries in February. They were expensive, dry and tasteless.
As I was saying . . . the seasons. . . endive is a winter vegetable and we love them in salads, steamed, braised in sweet butter, in a word they are a staple in our vegetable line-up. They are also very reasonably priced, which I'm told they are not in the United States.
The recipe for six:
12 medium endives (two per person, which is plenty -- you'll see): leaves should be tightly closed, trim the bottoms, toss any withered leaves.
Rinse gently and quickly under cool running water, drain (shake).
|You can see how golden and delicious these endives appear, that's why some cooks opt for endives braisées for their endives au jambon.|
Braised (above): melt 6 Tbs. of sweet butter in a heavy pan with a squeeze of lemon juice, a pinch of salt and approximately 1/4 cup of water.
Melt half of the butter in the pan, arrange the endives in two layers, with butter between the layers and on top of the top, squeeze the lemon juice on each layer, sprinkle with salt and cover with water. Boil for 10 minutes, covered. Uncover the pan and let the endive cook for another 10 minutes.
Remove from the pan and let drain and cool slightly.
Steamed: This is the way I usually cook my endives. Place endives in pan, spritz with lemon juice and sprinkle with salt, cover with approximately 1/4 cup water, let them boil for 10 minutes covered and 10 more minutes uncovered.
You see the advantage of this method -- fewer calories. Some might say it's a crime like this though. . .
When the endives can be easily handled, wrap them in paper thin slices of ham. (Remove every bit of fat from the slices and all the better if you have a butcher who will cut the slices for you.) Depending upon the size of the slices, you can use either an entire slice or half of one. The idea is to entirely wrap the endives.
Place the endives au jambon in a single layer in a buttered baking dish.
Now comes the best part. . .
For approximately two cups:
2 Tbs. sweet butter
3 Tbs. flour
Melt the better on low heat in a heavy sauce pan. Slowly blend in the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. After a couple of minutes you will have a perfectly combined white roux.
2 cups of hot milk and a pinch of salt.
When the roux and milk are blended, while constantly whisking, bring to a gentle boil for approximately one minute.
Five minutes before the end, generously sprinkle with grated Emmanthal or Gruyère cheese. You can slip the endives under the broiler for a brown and crusty look, but I never do and mine come out sort of tan which is fine with me and less bother.
Nuances on the theme:
|Endives au jambon, ready to go to the table.|
Steam or braise (as mentioned above) -- your call.
The béchamel can also be made with skim milk, but I've never done this. A friend of mine does. It's fine, but lacks a certain richness. The grated cheese helps though.
Et voila. I don't think I've forgotten anything. After you've made this a couple of times you'll see how quickly it can be prepared. It can also be prepared in advance and is delicious reheated.
Normally, from start to finish preparation takes between 20 to 30 minutes.