Endive and Ham Gratin

My mom would be so proud, I used to hate endives when I was a kid….But when I got older I learn to love the endive’s slight bitterness. Oh, this is so nostalgic for me! This is a very traditional dish in France

One of my favorite fall / winter recipes is endive with ham “Au Gratin”. This is a recipe I make for all of us when the weather is cool outside.  Endive is in season now through the early spring. Not to mention that cloaking it in a layer of fancy ham, bechamel and Gruyere is a little too decadent for the every day.  It’s more for special occasions.  And I think the occasion for this was “just because…”

Raw endives are common in winter salads, but most people in the US have no idea you can eat them cook.

The slightly bitter, hefty flavor of Belgian endive is nice in the winter when your appetite needs some perking up.

However when long-roasted in a bath of butter, no matter what the price, Belgian endive becomes a luxurious experience.

Endive and Ham Gratin:

Serves 2 (or more) as a main course, 4 as a side dish

I happen to be a person that doesn’t like a lot of sauce. However it’s hard to make a very small batch of béchamel so I included a recipe that makes 2 cups (500ml). I used about 1 1/4 cups (about 310ml) but feel free to use all of it if you like sauce, especially if you bake the endives in a larger gratin dish. (Mine is a long, vintage orange one, with not a lot of room around it.)

As for serving size, I’d figured this was enough for four people, but we ended up eating almost all of them, they were so good. The few that we were able to resist, were great reheated the next day.Note that the butter-braised Belgian endive spears are good on their own. No need to sauce and add cheese; they’re a wonderful side dish on their own.

For the béchamel:

2 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted

3 tablespoons flour

2 cups (500ml) whole milk, warmed

pinch salt

pinch cayenne

For the endive and ham gratin:

2 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted

1 pound (450g, about 8 medium spears) Belgian endive spears

3 tablespoons water

juice of 1/2 lemon

8 thin slices of ham such as prosciutto, speck, or another country-style ham

3/4 cup (65g) grated cheese such as Comté, Gruyère, Emmenthal, or Gouda (or a combination)

Technique:

1. To make the béchamel, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and when the mixture begins to bubble, cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Gradually add the warm milk, while whisking, until it’s all incorporated.

2. Continue to cook the sauce at a low boil for 4 to 5 minutes, until it’s about as thick as a milkshake. Remove from heat and mix in the salt and cayenne. Set aside. (You can make the béchamel up to 2 days in advance, and chill it until ready to use.)

3. Preheat the oven to 325ºF (160ºC).

4. Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a heatproof and flameproof baking or gratin dish, on the stovetop. (Make sure the baking dish you use can be heated over direct flame or on the stovetop. I use a glazed enamel gratin dish. Glass, porcelain, ceramic, and other materials are usually not appropriate for stove-top cooking. If you don’t have one, or are unsure, melt the butter in a skillet and do the initial browning – in the next step – in the skillet. Then transfer them to an ovenproof baking dish before baking.)

5. Add the endive spears and cook, turning them occasionally, until they are browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Add the water and lemon juice to the baking dish, cover the endive with a piece of parchment paper, and bake the endives in the oven until fully cooked. They’re done when you pierce one with the tip of a sharp paring knife, and it meets no resistance. Small to medium endives will take about an hour. Larger ones may take 15 minutes longer.

6. Remove the endives from the oven and increase the heat to 350ºF (180ºC).

7. When the endives are cool enough to handle, wrap each one with a piece of ham and set them in a single layer back in the baking dish. (If you want, you can smear some of the béchamel in the bottom of the baking dish first.) Spoon béchamel over the spears (see headnote), top with grated cheese, and bake until the cheese is melted and the top is browned, about 30 minutes. If you have a broiler, if they don’t brown, or if you’d like them darker, run them under the broiler for a few minutes, until they’re done to your liking. Serve warm.

Storage:

The endives can be cooked 2-3 days before being wrapped in ham, and baked.

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