Belgian Delight: Gratinated Chicory and Ham Rolls with Buttery Potatoes

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When I was small, extremely small – baby teeth small – I had already cultivated a rather refined taste. Nothing passed my teeth that I didn’t know. I was willing to try, but it could certainly happen that the dish did not withstand my strict judgment.

Even today, I am told that it happened to be this particular dish. I must have been between three and four years old when friends of my parents, babysat my brother and me one evening. And as responsible friends do, they prepared a home cooked dinner for the kids.

We were seated at the table, the food served was introduced as a “Belgian dish.”
I imagine myself sitting there: small, with bangs, barely able to hold a fork, wearing a bib, and starting to eat the “Belgian dish” somewhat clumsily. I couldn’t have eaten much of it because the story goes that I quickly, almost offended, expressed, “This is a badly-tasting Belgian dish!” and stopped eating.

Years later, I moved to Belgium with my family. One of the first dishes that crossed my life for the second time was this “Belgian dish,” which turned out to be gratinated chicory of all things.

For some reason, Belgians love this bitter vegetable. Chicory, also known as salad chicory, white chicory, or Brussels endive, led a shadowy existence for a long time. Only from the 18th century onwards, and especially after the Napoleonic Continental Blockade in 1806, did the roots of the plant come into fashion, primarily serving the production of coffee in times of need.

When exactly the leaves of the plant were rediscovered as a vegetable is not known. What is certain, however, is that it was the Belgians.

They started cultivating chicory, and first presented its leaves as a vegetable in 1873. In addition to Belgium, its popularity also grew significantly in France. The annual per capita consumption, in Belgium alone, amounts to a respectable six kilograms, while in France, it’s 3.6 kilograms.

In contrast, according to the figures from the Service Center for Rural Areas Rhineland-Palatinate, Germans consume only about 300 grams per year, mainly as raw food. Yet, chicory tastes best when steamed, fried, braised, or gratinated. And, on top of that, we’re actually doing something really good for our health because the bitter substances in chicory replace digestive bitters!

They bind stomach acid and stimulate digestion. So, don’t make the same mistake I did: don’t wait too long to discover this delightful vegetable.

To get you started I want to share a simple, yet oh so tasty recipe to get the two of you acquainted: let’s see if we can boost the per capita consumption a bit this year.

Belgian Delight: Gratinated Chicory and Ham Rolls with Buttery Potatoes

Total Time 1 hour
Course Main Course
Servings 2

Equipment

  • 1 Peeler
  • 1 Medium cooking pot
  • Whisk
  • Oven pre-heated to 180°C, fan on, upper and under heat
  • 1 Large oven dish
  • 1 Medium sauce pan

Ingredients
  

  • 3 Large crisp, chicory
  • 6 slices Cooked ham a smoky one is also nice
  • 2 tbsp Butter
  • 2 tbsp Flour
  • 300 ml Milk
  • 1 Lemon
  • salt, pepper, and nutmeg
  • 100 g medium-aged gouda finely grated
  • 1 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • 4 large, wax potatoes
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley finely chopped

Instructions
 

  • Prep:
    Peel the potatoes, bring water to a boil in medium pot, season with salt, and boil potatoes until tender. Drain, return to pot and add 1 tbsp of butter. Set potatoes aside.
    Grate the cheese finely.
    Preheat the oven to 180°C, convection with top and bottom heat.
    Halve the chicory lengthwise and cut out the wedge-shaped core. Wash gently under cold running water and pat dry.
    Wash, dry, and chop the parsley finely.
  • Béchamel sauce:
    While the potatoes are boiling, melt 1 tbsp butter in a saucepan, add in the flour, and whisk it in swiftly. Slowly pour in 1/3 of the milk while constantly stirring until fully incorporated. Slowly add in remaining mild, continue to stir until the sauce is nice and creamy. Bring to gently simmer. Be careful not to let it burn.
    Season with salt, pepper, grated nutmeg, and a generous splash of lemon juice.
    If you like, you can also add a dash of Worcestershire sauce.
    Finalize the béchamel according to your taste.
  • The chicory:
    Wrap the prepared chicory halves in ham and lay them into the baking dish with the cut sides facing the top.
    Evenly cover with béchamel, sprinkle with grated cheese, and bake in the pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned. Only then sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and finish baking until golden brown.
  • Finishing touch:
    Season the boiled and buttered potatoes with a pinch of salt, sprinkle with the chopped parsley, and very gently toss the potatoes in the melted butter and herbs.
    Remove the chicory from the oven and let it cool off briefly before serving.

This recipes calls for a family style dinner, simply transfer the potatoes into a nice bowl and place together with your baked chicory into the center of your dinner table. Let everyone dig in and enjoy those happy face while indulging on this Belgian delicacy! A cold beer goes extra nicely with the cheesy chicory.

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