As the joyous recent owner of a beautiful Le Creuset dutch oven, among other fabulous kitchen gadgets, I have been looking for more ways to use these things to make new recipes. Since one of the things a dutch oven is best for is braising, I recently checked out a book from the library called All About Braising by Molly Stevens. It's a great cookbook that explains in clear detail what braising is and how different kitchen gadgets can be used to achieve different results. Braising is "Low and Slow" cooking: a process of cooking food, covered, in a small amount of fat and liquid at a sustained temperature for a longer amount of time. This makes for juicy, tender food. Think of your slow-cooker pot. This is basically really, really long braising. When braising meat and some vegetables, you will often first have to brown the meat or veggies in fat before adding to the liquid to braise. This almost creates a protective "armor" on the outside of the food, making a crisp outer crust that helps to seal in the tender deliciousness inside.
The book is divided into chapters by ingredients; there's one for vegetables and then the ones following are each devoted to a type of meat. She also offers lots of tips throughout and at the end for choosing and storing ingredients too. Overall it's a great book. I had to return it before I got to try out more recipes, but the one for braised Belgian endive with ham is pretty tasty and turned me on to a veggie I'd never tried before.
Endive is actually the root of chicory that is grown in darkness, hence its white color. They have a mild, somewhat bitter tang to them that isn't unpleasant. Jeremy and I paired this recipe with our belated Valentine's pork chops and they were the perfect complement. Molly Stevens explains that braising endive turns the bitterness into "something marvelously complex and luscious" and she's right. It becomes tender and soft and silky.
When selecting Belgian endive, look for firm, tightly packed bulbs that are as pale as possible. If the tips of the leaves are more than the palest green, don't select them. Endive can be pricey, so choose them carefully. For our recipe, I bought 6 endive and used 3. (I save the other 3 for a delicious salad I'll share later.) I found that the proportions for this recipe, which were for 6 endive, worked perfectly well for just 3 of them. But certainly if you have more mouths to feed and a bigger dish, make 6 or 9 of them.
Braised Belgian endive with ham
- 6 Belgian endive
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- 4 thin slices of prosciutto or serrano ham (we used serrano), or another comparable good-quality salty ham (don't use these to make the dish vegetarian), cut or torn into small strips or bits
- salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup of chicken stock
-1/4 to 1/3 cup of heavy cream
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a ceramic or glass gratin dish that will accommodate the amount of endive you are cooking snugly. (Molly suggests a 9x13 dish, but we made only 3 so our dish was smaller)
Remove the outer leaves of each endive and trim the stalky bottom off of each. Cut each in half lengthwise.
Melt 2 tbsp butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter just stops foaming, add as many endive as will fit in a loose layer cut side down and brown them for about 4 minutes. Using tongs, carefully turn them over to brown for a minute or two on the other side. Transfer them to the gratin dish cut side up. Use the rest of the butter to brown the rest of the endive.
There should still be a film of butter on the inside of the skillet. Add the ham bits and turn to coat them with the butter. After just a minute or two in the skillet, remove them and add them to the gratin dish, tucking them in between the endive and laying some on top. Add a bit of salt and pepper to your gratin dish (easy on the salt, as the ham and the forthcoming stock are both salty).
Add the stock to the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir up the browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan and pour the hot stock over the endive in the gratin dish.
Cover the dish tightly with foil and braise in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes until the endive are collapsed and tender when pierced with a knife. They will have a burnished hue.
Remove the foil and baste the endive in the pan juices. If the pan is dry, add 2 tbsp of water. Braise uncovered for another 8 to 10 minutes, until the pan juices turn caramel colored and have almost completely evaporated. Pour over the heavy cream (use the greater amount for a richer taste) and bake another 6 minutes or so, until the cream takes on a caramel color and has thickened to a sauce consistency. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving with the sauce.
These were a delicious accompaniment to the sweetness of the pork chops: the mellow, slightly bitter tang and soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture accompanied by the creamy sauce and bits of ham. Heavenly!