Thursday, March 06, 2008

Braised Endives

Chicories! I love them. Endive, radicchio, frisee, escarole, I've really learned to enjoy these crunchy greens (or purples or creamy whites) with the bitter bite. As I've been trying to keep my diet closer to some kind of 'seasonal' ideal, I've been eating these guys a lot lately, as many of them come into their own during the colder months. I love salads, and they are often the only real salad greens that are in season this time of year without greenhouses or long routes of transportation (of course, I'm not really talking about New England; nothing's in season here anymore).

I enjoy them raw, in salads, where they stand up well to strong, acidic dressings with lots of citrus or vinegar and the sharp flavors of blue cheese. But I especially love them browned and braised, which is the perfect way to cut the bitterness and open up their flavor to their wonderful, smoky, mysterious potential. The best vegetable for this, in my opinion, is endive. Here is my perfected, scrumptious recipe for braised endive.

Heat your oven to 425 degrees. Melt a bit of butter and olive oil in a black-iron pan over medium-high heat. Cut the endive in half, length-wise. When the butter is frothing and just beginning to turn darker, put the endive halves in cut side down, and sprinkle generously with salt and freshly ground pepper. Once the endives have browned nicely to a rich, crusty hue, pour some stock in the pan, enough to cover the bottom and come up the sides of the endive just a bit, a half-centimeter or so. Cover the pan with foil and throw it in the oven for a half-hour to an hour or so, until the vegetables are soft and melting. The endives will have absorbed most of the stock. Remove from the oven and place on a plate, cut side up or down as you see fit (both sides are attractive, in my opinion).

You could just eat them now and they would be very good indeed. But to get to the next level, throw another small pat of butter in the pan and a nice squirt of lemon juice (not too much lemon, it is easy to overwhelm the more delicate flavors of the braising), and scrape up all the browned juices with the lemon and butter and drizzle this sauce on the finished endives. Finished!

This basic formula works very well with many other vegetables, with minor alterations for cooking time and absorbtion, etc. For a perfect mid-winter's meal, match these with a simple pasta, spaghetti or an egg noodle tagliatelle, of softened butter, grated parmesan and lots of coarsely ground black pepper.


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