One of the perks of being married to Jules is being able to visit his family home in the southwest of France. The area where his parents live is 20 minutes from Bergerac, and since we’re pretty much in the middle of the countryside, we don’t really go out to eat. This means lots of delicious home-cooked meals (including house-made foie gras terrine & fig preserves made from fruit from the trees in the yard). I really get spoiled when I’m there!
During our last trip to France, my mother-in-law came home from the supermarket with 4 kilos of endives. Beautiful, plump, delicately colored – and organically grown – and on sale for one euro per kilo. These vegetables are quite delicious raw, with a mildly bitter taste and a slightly croquante texture that is a nice contrast in a salad. A few years ago, I’d discovered that they are also fantastic cooked. My mother-in-law made a few variations during the week: a simple endive salad with vinaigrette, then a delicious pot of braised, chopped endive, sweetened with a touch of sugar (to help caramelize them). The other dish she prepared was a beautiful gratin of ham and endive – what isn’t delicious when it’s smothered in a proper bechamel sauce? When done correctly, the endives are tender on the outside but still have a bit of crunch to them when you cut into them.
While endives are pretty commonplace in France, in California they are quite expensive (usually about $6 per pound!), but so worth every delicious penny. The recipe is very simple and easy to throw together – the hardest part is making the bechamel (which is really quite basic, as far as sauces go).
Endives au Jambon Gratinée
8 fresh endives
8 slices of ham (I use Jambon de Paris, you want something with minimal seasoning)
1/4 lb. shredded Gruyere/Emmental mix (you can also use just one of either cheese)
4 T butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
Preheat oven to 350F.
Set a pot of salted water to boil. Prepare the endives by removing any outer leaves that don’t look fresh. When the water is boiling, blanch the endives for 3 minutes, whole, then remove and drain.
Next, make your Bechamel sauce. In a saucepan, melt the butter on medium heat. You do not want this to brown in any way. Add the flour and whisk to blend with the butter to make a roux. Don’t let the roux brown – after just a minute or two, add the milk and whisk vigorously to blend, and then keep stirring over the heat. As the sauce gets hotter, it will thicken. Once you have the desired consistency, add salt and pepper to taste, and remove from heat. Add about 1/3 of the shredded cheese (your Bechamel is now a Mornay sauce).
Now that the endives have had time to cool, make sure to press he extra water out of them by putting them in a tea towel and gently squeezing. Be careful as the water may still be hot! Once you have gotten them somewhat dry, wrap each endive in a slice of ham and place them in a casserole dish – it’s okay if they are jammed in tightly. Pour the Bechamel over the wrapped endives, making sure to cover them evenly. Add the remainder of the shredded cheese to the top, then place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, put the casserole under the broiler (on low) for 3 minutes. Make sure to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn – it should make a nice, golden crust. Voila! Endives au jambon, just like ma belle-mère makes.
This dish goes well with a simple salad, or just your favorite vegetable. Right now, we’re getting some really great asparagus at our local farmers market, so we just lightly blanched our asparagus and topped them with really good olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bon appetit!