I recently had to explain to a will-not-be-named member of my family that endives are contraband in the States. Or, I should say, packing raw French endives in your suitcase to consume in the States would be...yeah, illegal. Even though endives in France are so much cheaper!
That is how obsessed I am with endives. Bitter, crunchy, great in salad—sure. But where it's really at is in the cooked endive: still crunchy but slightly tender, each leaf still holding its own but collapsing onto the one beneath it like exhausted babushka dolls. It's still bitter when cooked, but just ever-so-slightly more mellow. It's like you took the muscle man that is endive and gave him that spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. Then, they become so delicious, so unusual, delicate, and different. They are special—worth smuggling even.
Endive gratin is a traditional dish—it has the rich voluptuousness of a gratin and crisp, bitter verdure of the vegetable. Ham-wrapped endive halves are smothered in a simple béchamel and covered with Gruyère cheese, then baked until the endive is soft and mellow and the cheese is bubbly and gooey. Add a small green salad with a little lemon juice and fleur de sel and you're in business.
- Yield:serves 2
- Active time: 10 minutes
- Total time:1 hour
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 cup milk
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 endives, halved
- 4 thinly slices Black Forest ham
- 1/2 cup grated Gruyère
Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a small saucepot, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the milk, and cook 5 minutes over medium heat, whisking often. Season with salt and pepper.
Wrap each endive in ham. Pour half the béchamel sauce on the bottom of a baking dish. Place the endives in the dish, and cover with the remaining sauce. Top with the cheese, and cover the dish with foil. Bake 25 minutes, remove the foil, and bake another 30 minutes.