If I had to name my favorite vegetable for braising, it would be endive. When it is browned first in butter and then slowly cooked in just a bit of golden chicken stock, endive’s inherent bitterness transforms into something marvelously complex and luscious. Some cooks insist on adding a pinch of sugar to endive. I don’t. I like the way the edge of bitterness offsets the remarkably soft, silky texture that slow cooking produces. Thin strips of prosciutto lend a welcome salt, meaty edge to the dish. It’s also quite nice with other good-tasting ham such as Serrano and Smithfield. If you’re serving vegetarians, omit the ham altogether. The dish may be a bit less dramatic, but it will still be delectable.
- 6 to 9 Belgian endive (about 1 ½ pounds)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 thin slices prosciutto (about 2 ounces), cut crosswise into 1-inch-wide stripes (don’t trim off the fat)
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup chicken stock, homemade (cross-reference) or store-bought
- ¼ to 1/3 cup heavy cream
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a large gratin dish or baking dish (9-by-13 inch).
2. Trimming the endive: Remove the outermost leaves from the endive, and trim the bottoms if they appear brown or dried out. Cut each endive lengthwise in half.
3. Browning the endive: Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet (12-inch) over medium heat (nonstick or well-seasoned cast iron are good choices since the delicate endive leaves won’t stick and tear, but any decent skillet will do). When the butter just stops foaming, add as many endive, cut side down, as will fit in a loose layer and cook until the cut sides are nicely browned, about 4 minutes. Using tongs, turn the endive and brown for a minute or two on the other side. Transfer the browned endive to the gratin dish, arranging them cut side up. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter to the skillet and brown the rest of the endive. The endive should fit in a snug single layer in the gratin dish.
4. The aromatics and braising liquid: There should still be a film of butter in the skillet. Still over medium heat, add the prosciutto strips to the skillet and turn to coat them with the butter. Tuck a few strips between the endive and drape the rest over the tops. Season with salt pepper, keeping in mind that the prosciutto is salty. Add the stock to the skillet and bring to a boil over high heat. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits, and pour the stock over the endive and prosciutto.
5. The braise: Cover the dish tightly with foil. Braise until the endive are collapsed and tender when pierced with a sharp knife and have a burnished hue, 30 to 35 minutes.
6. The finish: Remove the foil and baste the endive by spooning over any juices from the pan. If the pan is dry, add 2 tablespoons of water. Braised, uncovered, for another 8 to 10 minutes, until the pan juices have turned a caramel color and almost completely evaporated. Pour over the heavy cream – the lesser amount if you want something less rich tasting – and bake until the cream takes on a caramel color and thickens to a sauce-like consistency, another 6 minutes or so. Spoon over any pan drippings, and serve warm or at room temperature.
Braised Endive with Fried Eggs
Paired with eggs fried in olive oil, the braised endive makes a fabulous supper. Add an extra slice of priscutto the to recipe in Step 4. When the endive are done, fry as many eggs as you like in olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Slide the fried eggs onto dinner plates, and return the skillet to medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar, and let it boil for about 1 minute. Drizzle the reduced vinegar over the eggs. Place the warm or room-temperature braised endive next to the eggs, and serve immediately.
Nutritional information is based on 1/8 teaspoon added salt per serving and using 1/4 cup of heavy cream.