What’s in a name? I’ve noticed over the years that different English speaking countries have different names for various vegetables and herbs. It certainly makes it a bit confusing when reading recipes! The simplest explanation for these differences lies in their historical adoption into these various countries – sometimes due the various immigrant populations that either introduced them or made special use of them in their native cuisine and thus became associated with these foods in their new homes. It is an interesting hypothesis that might enable us to look at cultural history through food terminology. Already anthropologists analyse cookbooks with this in mind – adaptations and cultural identity through cuisine as well as food choice and preparation. However, I’m not ruling out any other possible explanation as to why the same veg are called rutabaga (from the Swedish) in the US, swede in many parts of the UK and neeps (from the Old English) in Scotland. Or why the pale green leafy brassica is called, in some parts of the US, Napa cabbage (derived from a generic Japanese term for leafy green), Chinese leaf in the UK and wong bok or wombok (from numerous Asian terms) in New Zealand and Australia.
But, for the purposes of this post, I’d like to address Belgian endive as it is called in the US, chicory in the UK and witlof (or witloof) from the Dutch meaning “white leaf” in Australia (at least according to my sources). All of this just to introduce a recipe by Jane Grigson in her Vegetable Book being explored by The Cookbook Guru!
It is an interesting vegetable discussed by Grigson, including tips on how to clean and store. Botanically, it is not a true endive, but is a member of the chicory genus, related to another favourite bitter vegetable of mine – radicchio. It is grown indoors or underground in caves, in sunless conditions in order to produce the tender blanched leaves. Like radicchio, it can be eaten raw in salads or cooked, a process which mellows the flavour and eliminates much of the characteristic bitterness. Grigson offers numerous recipes for this veg in her book. I’ve chosen one of the simplest braised ones which she claims is the best why of cooking chicory that she knows.
Braised Chicory in Cream
Although Grigson indicates that many chicory dishes can be eaten on their own as a meal, this particular one is best as a side dish. It is very good with ham, a natural partner for this veg. I have reduced the amount made to serve 4, but except for cutting the larger heads in half, the instructions follow Grigson’s recipe fairly closely.
- 4 to 6 chicory heads, depending on size
- 2 oz. (4 Tablespoons) butter
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 lemon
- 3 oz. (85ml) double (heavy) cream
- Salt & pepper
- Parsley (optional)
Prepare your chicory by removing a very bottom on the core side and running the head under cold water before patting dry. If the heads are large, cut down the middle lengthwise. Since I had a mixture of baby chicory (approximately 3cm in diameter) and larger heads (approximately 6cm in diameter), I cut two larger ones in half and left the 5 baby ones whole.
In a large frying pan, melt the butter and then sprinkle on the sugar so that it dissolves. Place the chicory in the sugared butter and turn so that the whole thing is coated. Keep the chicory in one layer. Juice the lemon and pour this over the chicory. Place the lid on the pan (or cover in foil) and turn down very low. Simmer for about 30 to 40 minutes or until the heads are soft and slightly caramelised.
Carefully remove the chicory from the pan and keep warm on a platter. Meanwhile, turn up the heat and add the cream to the residue of liquid in the pan. Boil for a few minutes until it is reduced to a silky sauce.
Test for seasoning and add salt and pepper if required. Pour the sauce over the chicory and garnish with chopped parsley.
The sauce was very nice – lemony and creamy. The bitterness of the chicory was less pronounced than in the raw version, but the vegetable did have a tendency to stringiness since it was left whole or nearly whole. The general consensus around the dinner table was that, although they enjoyed this, they prefered the chicory salad I often make that is combined with apples and drizzled with a yoghurt based Stilton dressing. Also less calories!