Belgian endive's website (every vegetable ought to be able to code these days) refers to itself as Belgium's gift to the world.
I could definitely think of presents I'd prefer (beer, waffles, and chocolate come to mind), but the crispy, snow-white leaves from the chicory family are a novelty among a field of listless lettuces.
The sun streaming through my window when I took this photo was probably the most light the sheltered heads ever saw in their lifetimes.
Grown entirely indoors and below surface, they emerge pale and bitter--kind of like teenagers.
Turns out endive is capable of contributing far more though.
Even tortilla chips shaped like taco salad bowls can't capture as much crab salad or warm ricotta dip in one fell swoop as a one-calorie endive leaf. They're like edible crumb-scrapers.
Chop them crossways and lump them together with a few others from the unpopular crowd--like fennel, radicchio, celery, watercress, anchovies, blue cheese, hazelnuts, or walnuts--for a seductively edgy salad that conforms to no one.
As do most of us, endive mellows from time spent lying in the heat with water and wine lapping around.
That's to say that braising might be your best bet in revealing its other vainglorious title: white gold.
Braised Belgian endive
- 3 Tbsp. butter
- 1-2 tsp. sugar
- 6-8 Belgian endive, cut quartered lengthwise
- salt and freshly-ground pepper
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup water
- squeeze of lemon
- leaves from 3 sprigs of fresh tarragon
Melt the butter in a large sauté pan set over medium-high heat. Sprinkle over the sugar.
Add the endive to the pan in a single layer and season charitably with salt and pepper. Brown for 5 minutes, lowering the heat if the butter starts to burn. Flip the endive and cook until they look like they've had on a proper beach vacation, 3 to 5 more minutes.
Pour in the wine and cook until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add the water, cover, and braise the endive until their cores are easily pierced, another 8 minutes or so.
Finish with lemon and tarragon and any remiss salt and pepper.