Endive is extremely nutritious: it is low in calories, yet high in fiber, B vitamins, vitamin C, copper, potassium, and selenium. Endive’s bitter taste also makes it excellent for digestion: bitter foods stimulate the digestive organs to secrete hydrochloric acid (note that many people who suffer from frequent heartburn and assume they have too much acid actually have a hydrochloric acid deficiency). Bitter foods are particularly useful in aiding the body to digest fats.
I could rave about its health promoting qualities all day, but in all honesty, endive is not something I’ve previously used a great deal in my kitchen. So I was excited to do some research on this vegetable in addition to developing an original recipe with endive as the star.
Before we get to the recipe, let’s have a quick lesson on endive (because there seems to be a bit of confusion about the name). Endive is a member of the chicory family. There is a curly lettuce you may know as radicchio or escarole, but it is also sometimes called red or curly endive. It’s a bitter green that’s fairly easy to grow, and is often featured in salads. That’s not the endive we’re focusing on here. The endive that is the subject of this month’s Progressive Party is Belgian endive (aka French endive).
Belgian endive is a slightly unusual plant in that it’s “double grown”: chicory seeds develop into roots, which are harvested and then “forced” under special conditions (no sun/light) indoors until the re-sprouting heads appear. These are cone-shaped and are usually white (although there is also a reddish variety, as well). Belgian endive is not something that is grown in the home garden, and in the United States, it’s only grown commercially by one company: California Vegetable Specialties (the sponsor of this month’s Progressive Party).
Rodger Helwig, a representative for the company, is really passionate about their product. He was sweet enough to speak with me on the phone about Belgian endive a couple of times. Turns out he interviewed for a job at my parents’ restaurant years ago…it is a small world.
Since most Americans are accustomed to eating Belgian endive raw, Rodger encouraged me to do a cooked preparation. I decided on a braise accomplished with a simple combination of garlic, stock, and wine, and I topped the cooked endive with a garlicky preserved lemon gremolata to give it a salty burst of herbal deliciousness. This braised endive is an easy dish to make: one that’s perfect for your post-holiday efforts to eat healthier, but which does not ask you to compromise one bit when it comes to flavor.
Braised Endive with Preserved Lemon Gremolata
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For the endive:
- 5-6 heads California endive bottoms trimmed off, then sliced in half
- coarse sea salt
- fresh ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup stock vegetable, chicken, or turkey, preferably homemade
- 2-3 garlic cloves peeled and sliced
For the gremolata:
- 1 large garlic clove peeled and minced
- 1/4 cup parsley minced
- 1 teaspoon preserved lemon rind minced (or use freshly grated lemon zest)
Sprinkle endives with salt and pepper, then arrange cut side down in a suitable baking dish (I used a round dish: you want the endives to fit perfectly in the dish so the braising liquid comes up an inch or so around the endives).
In a small bowl, mix together the wine and stock. Pour over the endives. Add the garlic pieces to the baking dish.
Cover tightly with foil and bake in a preheated 425 degree F. oven for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat, carefully flip the endives over, and bake for another 30 minutes, uncovered. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
Make the gremolata by mixing the minced garlic with the parsley and the preserved lemon rind.
Plate the endive and garnish with the gremolata.