Endive: An interesting, versatile vegetable

(And in case you wondered: it's pronounced ON-DEEV)




This winter, I've discovered endive -- how to cook with it, how it grows, and how to pronounce it.

I'd eaten this not-green vegetable several times, but I'd never cooked with it and didn't know much about it, including how to properly say it.

If that's you, you might want to get your hands on some, because it's very tasty, extremely versatile and one of the relatively few vegetables that's in season.

That's because it's always in season, according to the only U.S. grower, California Vegetable Specialties.

Buying, storing and cooking with endive

California Vegetable Specialties suggests looking for smooth, plump, crisp, firm heads that are as pale as possible. At home, wrap them in a damp paper towel inside a plastic bag; it will keep that way in your fridge's vegetable drawer for 10 to 14 days.

You don't need to wash it, because, "The leaves have never been exposed to soil, and are harvested and packed under sanitary conditions. Just remove any torn or damaged leaves, trim the bottom, and you're ready to go!"

The core is slightly more bitter than the rest of the endive, so, if you're using it raw, you might want to slice the endive in half lengthwise and remove the core. No need to do that when you're cooking it, as the core tends to turn sweeter.

According to the primer it provides on endive.com -- of course; you think there wouldn't be an endive.com? -- you say on-deev for the tighty packed, conically headed, pale white one, which is commonly called Belgian endive. California Vegetable Specialties calls its version Belgian-style endive, and in addition to the white grows a red one, which has reddish tips.

You say en-dive for their curly-headed, more lettuce-like cousin, which is green, because it grows in light.

Belgian endive, on the other hand, actually sprouts in the dark, during its second growth -- a fascinating process that we'll shine light on later.

Both endives belong to a group of vegetables known as chicory (genus Cichorium), which include radicchio, escarole and frisee, as well as several varieties better known in Europe than here such as treviso. The plant on which Belgian endive grows actually is chicory; red endive is a cross of chicory and treviso.

All tend to be a bit bitter, but that's part of their appeal.

You've probably at least seen the conical endive, the leaves of which retain their shape so well they're often used as pretty and edible cups to hold other salad fixings or dips.

But if you saw it as it grows, you'd be surprised that a single head is a small part of the chicory plant, which is mostly one big root.

As California Vegetable Specialties explains, those chicory roots are topped with longer, frillier leaves as they grow from seed in the spring. But during the harvest in the fall, those leaves are removed and discarded and the roots are dug up. The roots are packed and kept dormant in cold storage (29 degrees, for up to nine months) until they are needed for the second growth, which occurs on growing trays in dark, humid, hydroponically fed "forcing rooms." That is, the plant is forced to "bloom" into these small heads, which when mature after 21 to 28 days, are picked, packed and shipped. The dark "endive caves" are like the buildings in which mushrooms are grown.

White and red endive are interchangeable, with a mix looking best in salads.

But these endives are very versatile, as I found as I combed my cookbooks for recipes. They can be cooked, too -- braised on their own, or with meats and other vegetables, and baked filled or topped with various cheeses. The enthusiastic endive.com site provides about 100 recipes, including two for desserts -- Apple-Endive Strudel and Candied Endive Ice Cream "Salad."

Europeans seem particularly fond of endive, probably because that's where the vegetable (also known as chicory and, in Dutch, witloof/witlof) was accidentally discovered.

So chronicles California Vegetable Specialties, which describes how in 1830 a Belgian man named Jan Lammers returned from war to his farm near Brussels. He'd stored chicory roots in his cellar, intending to roast them to use as a coffee substitute (chicory remains a popular adjunct to coffee in New Orleans).

But he found that his chicory roots had sprouted small white leaves. He nibbled on them, and liked them. By the 1870s, endive was popular in Paris and beyond as "white gold."

It was European technology that helped endive take root in California, which has been the quest of California Vegetable Specialties' founder Richard Collins. He's been growing it in Northern California since the early 1980s. The company, headquartered in the Sacramento River Delta town of Rio Vista, now is part of a company in France. Europe still grows most of the world's annual harvest of more than 500,000 tons. California produces about 4 million pounds per year.

Says California Vegetable Specialties' marketing director Rodger Helwig, "Our biggest competition is ignorance." The company is working to change that via endive.com, which includes a video of testimonials from female food bloggers dubbed "the OnDivas."

Plenty of chefs already are on board with on-deev. You'll find Belgian endive on menus across Western Pennsylvania. Mount Washington's Isabela on Grandview puts caramelized endive in its Blue Crab "Pot Pie." Last week, East Liberty's Dinette offered a starter of Grilled Belgian Endive with marinated beets, frisee, Gorgonzola, toasted walnuts and coriander vinaigrette. Nearby Paris 66 serves an Endive and Beet Salad with Gorgonzola and bleu cheese dressing.

If you haven't worked with endive before, get yourself some and give it a try. I paid $4.99 a pound last week at Giant Eagle Market District. It keeps well, and there's little waste -- you just trim the ends. Here are some recipes to get you started.



BELGIAN ENDIVE SALAD WITH INSANE DRESSING

PG tested

This is from one of the meal menus from Jamie Oliver's latest book, "Meals in Minutes." It's served with Cauliflower Macaroni and Lovely Stewed Fruit.

-- Bob Batz Jr.

  • 2 large heads red endive or 1 large radicchio
  • 2 large heads Belgian endive
  • Small bunch fresh basil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Pinch salt and pepper
  • 1/4 of a 2-ounce can of anchovies in oil, drained
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons natural yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Small handful of capers, drained

Trim the bases of the endives and pull the leaves apart over a serving platter. Quickly pick the basil leaves and scatter the small ones all over the salad. Put a small frying pan on a medium to low heat.

Put the bigger basil leaves into a blender. Crush in the unpeeled garlic clove, then add a good pinch of salt and pepper, 1/4 can of anchovies, plus a little of their oil, mustard, yogurt, red wine vinegar and olive oil. Add a small splash of water and whiz until smooth.

Add a splash of olive oil and the capers to the hot frying pan. Fry for a few minutes until crispy. Taste the dressing to check for acidity, then pour into a jug. Sprinkle the crispy capers all over the leaves and take to the table with the jug of dressing. You won't need all the dressing -- keep any extra in the refrigerator for another day.

Serves 6.

-- "Meals in Minutes: A Revolutionary Approach to Cooking Good Food Fast" by Jamie Oliver (Hyperion, Oct. 2011, $35)



GRIDDLED ENDIVE SALAD

PG tested

This is another way Jamie Oliver presents endive in "Meals in Minutes." This is part of a menu he lays out for 6 of Trapani-Style Rigatoni, Arugula & Parmesan Salad and Limoncello Kinda Trifle.

-- Bob Batz Jr.

  • 2 heads red endive or 1 large radicchio
  • 2 heads Belgian endive
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • A few springs fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 clove garlic

Put a grill pan on high heat. Trim the endives and halve each one lengthways. Lay them flat side down on the grill pan. Turn every few minutes and take the pan off the heat once nicely charred on both sides.

Move the endives to a cutting board. Roughly chop, then dress with a couple of splashes of balsamic vinegar and a couple of lugs of extra-virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Pick and finely chop the rosemary leaves and crush over 1/2 peeled clove of garlic. Toss together and serve.

Serves 6.

-- "Meals in Minutes: A Revolutionary Approach to Cooking Good Food Fast" by Jamie Oliver (Hyperion, Oct. 2011, $35)



Caramelized Endive with Gruyere

PG tested

Israeli journalist-turned-London restaurateur Chef Yotam Ottolenghi, who also writes "The New Vegetarian" column for the Guardian, said that when he first published this recipe in the newspaper, he used Taleggio cheese. But for his book "Plenty," he did some more testing and, while he still liked it that way, he decided to go with Gruyere "because its piquant flavor works better with the endive's bitterness. You can now make your choice. Another cheesy option is raclette, which was born to melt."

His luscious book also has recipes for Nutty Endive with Roquefort and Jerusalem Artichokes with Manouri and Basil Oil, which has endive in it.

-- Bob Batz Jr.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • Salt
  • 4 endives, cut in half lengthways
  • 2 teaspoons thyme leaves, finely chopped
  • 7 ounces Gruyere, sliced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh breadcrumbs
  • Black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place a heavy, flat pan on medium heat. Add the oil, butter, sugar and a pinch of salt, and allow to heat up.

Place the endive halves, cut-side down, in the pan. Do not move them for 3 to 5 minutes, or until they turn deep golden. (You might need to do this in 2 batches as endives need space.) Remove from the heat. Transfer the endive halves to a small ovenproof dish, arranging them cut-side up, close together. Sprinkle with half the thyme. Place the slices of cheese on top and sprinkle with the rest of the thyme.

Place in the oven for 8 to 12 minutes, or until the cheese starts to bubble. Remove from the oven. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and some black pepper. Return to the oven, increase the temperature to 400 degrees and bake for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs brown. Serve hot.

Serves 4.

-- "Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Dishes from London's Ottolenghi" by Yotam Ottolenghi (Chronicle, 2011, $35)



MAPLE ROASTED ENDIVE

PG tested

Don't fear the bitter of endive, especially if you cook it, and especially if you balance it with some sweetness in this recipe, which my wife found online and winged on a weeknight. It was fast and delicious. She didn't even bother to remove any of the core.

-- Bob Batz Jr.

  • 6 medium-sized Belgian endives
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons real maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Halve the endives or if large, cut them lengthwise into 4, then remove as much of the core as possible (the core can be bitter). Arrange endive into 1 layer on a baking sheet.

In a small saucepan, heat butter, olive oil, maple syrup, thyme and salt until bubbling. Then, pour over endive and bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes until tender and the edges begin to brown.

-- adapted from Saveur via inspiredtaste.net

-- Bob Batz Jr.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • Salt
  • 4 endives, cut in half lengthways
  • 2 teaspoons thyme leaves, finely chopped
  • 7 ounces Gruyere, sliced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh breadcrumbs
  • Black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place a heavy, flat pan on medium heat. Add the oil, butter, sugar and a pinch of salt, and allow to heat up.

Place the endive halves, cut-side down, in the pan. Do not move them for 3 to 5 minutes, or until they turn deep golden. (You might need to do this in 2 batches as endives need space.) Remove from the heat. Transfer the endive halves to a small ovenproof dish, arranging them cut-side up, close together. Sprinkle with half the thyme. Place the slices of cheese on top and sprinkle with the rest of the thyme.

Place in the oven for 8 to 12 minutes, or until the cheese starts to bubble. Remove from the oven. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and some black pepper. Return to the oven, increase the temperature to 400 degrees and bake for 5 to 7 minutes., or until the breadcrumbs brown. Serve hot.

Serves 4.

-- "Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Dishes from London's Ottolenghi" by Yotam Ottolenghi (Chronicle, 2011, $35)



Whipped Gorgonzola Endive with Balsamic Fruit

This recipe caught my eye in an advance copy of a really lovely new book, "Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables" by Cheryl Sternman Rule (Running Press, April 2012, $25).

-- Bob Batz Jr.

  • 3 ounces creamy (not crumbly) Gorgonzola cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons milk
  • 1 large head endive, bottom trimmed and leaves separated
  • 16 to 20 dried cherries
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons aged balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 small red apple, unpeeled, cored and diced

Bring about 1 cup water to a boil.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a wooden spoon and some muscle), whip the Gorgonzola until creamy. Scrape down the sides, add the milk and whip until incorporated. Transfer to a small bowl.

Arrange 16 to 20 endive leaves on a platter.

Place a corresponding number of dried cherries in a small bowl and add boiling water just to cover. Let stand 2 minutes. Drain. Sprinkle the cherries with 2 teaspoons of the vinegar.

Place 1 teaspoon of the cheese mixture into each endive leaf. Tuck 1 dried cherry (reserve the vinegar) and 1 cube of apple alongside. Sprinkle the reserved vinegar behind the cheese (so it doesn't brown the apples), adding an additional teaspoon.

Makes 16 to 20 spears.

-- "Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables" by Cheryl Sternman Rule (Running Press, April 2012, $25).


Correction/Clarification: (Published March 2, 2012) Thursday's recipe for Belgian endive salad with insane dressing was missing some of its directions. Find the full corrected recipe online at post-gazette.com/food. ??????

Bob Batz Jr. : bbatz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1930. First Published March 1, 2012 5:00 AM




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