Chicory

We ate a lot of vegetables and a lot of different vegetables as a child, and growing up and cooking for my own family over the years, of all the veg I’ve ever cooked, I’ve never cooked chicory – although I have eaten it in salads – just me, no-one else likes it! I think I first heard of chicory – as a vegetable not as an addition to or replacement for coffee – was when I read Katherine Whitehorn’s book ‘Cooking in a Bedsit’; she was writing about how even in the tiniest of cooking situations, imagination and innovation could achieve amazing things. It was written in the 1950’s where Britain was still struggling out of the difficulties and privations of wartime; she described a friend who loved chicory and would grow it in pots in his wardrobe in order for it to blanch. Even as I read it before i started cooking I thought this was amazing! I can’t now remember whether she referred to it as chicory or endive – the fact the two names were for the same vegetable confused me for a long time!

The first time i ate cooked chicory/endive was about three or four years ago when it came under another different name, witloof – I was eating it in the Netherlands with our dear friends over there. It came as part of the meal, a vegetable side-dish and was served wrapped in ham and covered in a delicious cheese sauce. Since then, whenever we have visited our friends and seen it on the menu, it has been my choice! I have tried to cook it at home, and although it was ok, it wasn’t as delicious… now I have found an actual Dutch recipe, so maybe I should try again!

This recipe from Noord-Holland has potato in it, which I don’t remember in the dish I ate, but it would make it more of a meal on its own! I have slightly altered the recipe to make it as I remember with the ham wrapped round the chicory rather than laced over it.

Potato and chicory gratin with ham and cheese sauce

  • 1 lb potatoes, boiled and mashed with 2 oz butter, ¼ pint milk, ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg, pepper
  • 4 heads of chicory
  • 4 slices of ham
  •  5 oz streaky bacon, fried until crisp and broken into pieces (the original recipe uses boiled bacon, but I prefer crispy fried!)
  • grated cheese
  • nutmeg and pepper

for the sauce:

  • 1 oz butter
  • 1 oz flour
  •  5 oz strong cheese preferably old Gouda
  • 5 fl oz milk (or more as needed to make sauce)
  • pepper
  1. while the potatoes are cooking, make the cheese sauce – butter and flour cooked together for a few minutes, gradually add the milk to make the sauce, beating like mad to avoid lumps, add the cheese, and lastly the nutmeg and pepper
  2. spread the mashed potato over the bottom of an ovenproof dish (big enough to lay the chicory side by side)
  3. sprinkle the bacon bits on top of the potato
  4. roll the chicory in the ham and place on top of the potato and bacon bits
  5. pour the cheese sauce over the chicory
  6. sprinkle with grated cheese, more nutmeg and pepper
  7. bake for about 20 mins until the chicory is soft 180º C, 360º F, gas mark 4
  8. enjoy on its own or with other vegetables!

 

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