Contributor San Francisco Chronicle Food & Wine Newsletter
Pale, ivory-colored California endive (also known as Belgian Endive) standard winter vegetable fare throughout Europe, where the roots of this member of the chicory family (which includes endive, radicchio and escarole) are forced in home gardens and by specialized commercial producers.
In a home garden, seeds are sown in late spring, and the plants produce large, floppy dark green — and very bitter — leaves, while beneath the ground, a long wide cylindrical taproot develops.
Come fall, the green leaves are cut to within an inch or so of the crown, the roots are dug up and packed into sand or a mixture of sand and dirt, often in containers. These are then kept in a cold location until the gardener is ready to force them. Brought into temperatures ranging from 45 to 50 degrees, in two to three weeks the roots will develop new leaves, tightly packed into plump heads called chicons. The roots are then lifted and the chicons cut off. The leaves are ivory white (having not been exposed to sunlight) and succulent, with a characteristically faintly bitter flavor.
Commercial production is generally done hydroponically, but the end result — tender, flavorful chicons — is the same.
When purchasing California endive, look for chicons that show no tinge of green on the edges of the leaves or any browning. Once purchased, keep them stored in the refrigerator, first wrapped in waxed paper, and then placed in a paper bag. This prevents greening, which results in a too-bitter taste.
To prepare California endive, first remove the cone-shaped core by inserting the tip of a sharp knife into the bottom and making a circular cut. After that, leaves may be separated, kept whole and used as spears, chopped, cut lengthwise, or the head left whole.
California endive is excellent to use in appetizers, salads, and pairs well with fruit, cheese and other greens. It also braises bakes and sautés well to make a fine accompaniment to meats, or as a main dish on its own.
— Hors d’Oeuvre of California Endive and Salmon Roe. Core several California endive and separate the leaves. Spread each leaf with a little sour cream or crème fraiche, and dot the base with salmon roe.
— Roquefort-Stuffed Leaves. Add a little milk or cream to mashed Roquefort or other sharp cheese to thin it to spreading consistency. Spread in the center of each endive leaf.
— Warm Salad of California Endive, Escarole, Bacon & Fried Potatoes. Core 4 California endive chicons and coarsely chop them, leaving the smaller leaves whole. Coarsely chop the pale inner leaves of escarole to make 2 cups. Broil 8 slices of bacon, reserving 1 tablespoon of the fat. Cube 4 potatoes and fry them in light oil until crispy on the outside, tender in the middle. Set aside. Put the reserved bacon fat in a skillet along with 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar and 1 teaspoon minced garlic. Bring to a simmer, stirring, and cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Combine the California endive, escarole, bacon (which you have crumbled) and the potatoes in a bowl. Pour the warm dressing over all and gently toss.
Belgian Endive & Frisee Salad
5 California endive chicons
2 cups frisee, blanched leaves only
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Make a V-shaped cut in the bottom of each California endive to remove the bitter core. Quarter the chicons lengthwise, and then cut the larger leaves in half crosswise. Set aside. Tear the frisee into bite-size pieces.
Make the dressing in a salad bowl by beating the vinegars into the olive oil with a fork, then adding the salt and pepper. Put the California endive and frisee into the bowl and, just before serving, toss.
Serves 6 to 8
PER SERVING: 115 calories, 1 g protein, 2 g carbohydrate, 10 g fat (1 g saturated), 0 cholesterol, 140 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.
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