I grew up French. We spoke only French at home and I attended all French schools. Yet where ever I find myself in the world, people always comment, “Oh, you’re French Canadian, not really French.” It is a curious distinction since I feel I am simply, French. At a recent French conversation lunch, the hostess placed a beautiful casserole of something bubbling under a blanket of luscious béchamel on the table. As I wondered what this enticingly aromic dish might be, the group erupted in cheers that we were having “un gratin d’endives”. It was a dish familiar to everyone but me, driving home that my French culture was perhaps a bit different after all. Oh la la, was I happy to get an introduction to this dish!
Baked endives, wrapped in a slice of ham are smothered in a cheesy béchamel for a family style main dish served in many French and other European homes. It is quite easy to make, especially once the endives are cooked. Because the endives hold water when cooking, it is imperitive to really squeeze all the water out of them. This is easiest done if they are cooked the day before and left to drain overnight wrapped in a paper towel, in a colander. The rest of the dish consists of just making a classic béchamel. Add a green salad, and you have a wonderful comforting French family style meal.
Merci, Christine, for introducing me to this lovely dish.
Gratin of Endives with Ham-Gratin d'endives au jambon avec sauce béchamel
- 8 slices of thinly sliced ham
- 8 endives
- 3/4 cup of Gruyère cheese, grated
- 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup unbleached flour
- 1 1/2 cups of hot milk
- grated nutmeg, to taste
- salt and pepper, to taste
- chopped parsley as a garnish, optional
- Prepare the endives: Discard any outer leaves that are bruised or wilted. Cut the root end in a “V” notch. Using a paring knife, gently remove the core or heart of the endive. This removes the bitter part of the endive.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the endives and cook for 30 minutes in gently boiling water. Drain the endives and squeeze out as much water as possible. The endives can be prepared the day before and drained overnight, wrapped in paper towels.
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Prepare the béchamel: in a saucepan melt the butter; whisk in the flour until smooth; remove from heat and gradually add the hot milk until the sauce is thick and smooth. Return to low heat and add a pinch of ground nutmeg, salt, pepper and half the cheese. Heat, stirring constantly, until the desired thickness is obtained. If the sauce is too thick, add a bit more milk.
- Butter a casserole dish. Wrap each endive in a slice of ham and place in the dish, seam side down. Pour the béchamel sauce on top and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese.
- Bake, uncovered, on a low rack, until the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 15-20 minutes. Serve hot with crusty bread to sop up the sauce.
To learn more about endives, click here.