Is it pronounced “n-dive” or “ahn-deev”? Well, either is correct, but I say “n-dive”.
Endive is actually a common name for a cousin of chicory; they are both from the Cichorium botanical family, according to “The New Food Lover’s Companion” by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. There are three main varieties: Belgian endive, curly endive and escarole. The type we’re showcasing is the Belgian endive, which is a pale yellow-white, tightly wrapped cylinder that comes almost to a point on the top.
Curly endive and escarole are grown in sunlight, but Belgian endive is grown in the dark. The growing process for Belgian endive is two-phased and labor intensive, and that’s what makes it so expensive. While cultivation of Belgian endive, also known as French endive and Witloof, or white leaf, is complex and requires serious knowledge of the growing phases, I’ll give you a super simplified version of what I learned from various sites on the Internet.
The longtime method of growing Belgian endive involves planting seeds in the summer, producing green plants resembling dandelion leaves. Once a good root system is established, the leaves are removed, roots dug up, trimmed and placed in cold storage.
At the right time, the roots are taken from cold storage and replanted in a moist soil mix. During this forcing stage, known as blanching, the roots remain in complete darkness. In a few weeks, tender, white sprouts come up from those roots and that’s the delicacy known as Belgian endive.
Today’s modern techniques, hydroponics and equipment have made growing endive by major producers different than earlier methods. Conditions are digitallly monitored and most endive is no longer grown in soil, but through hydroponics. The growing process, however, is still done in two phases.
I read somewhere that endives are “so good, you grow them twice.”
Endive, as I mentioned, is pricey and something you definitely would not have everyday. I got roughly 12 or 13 leaves suitable for stuffing from each head of endive. Not all the leaves are the same size because as you get to the center, the leaves get smaller. I just tucked those small leaves around the larger ones and the broken or small pieces went into a salad at another time.
Though Belgium is the largest producer, endive also is grown in California, Florida and upper Midwestern states and available year-round in specialty stores. In the larger stores you might also see the red endive, which is very pretty mixed on a tray with the white leaves.
Endive has a pleasant bitter flavor and is the perfect container to hold a wide variety of fillings for cold appetizers.
Forget salty chips or crackers this weekend and let a leaf of endive hold your favorite cheese spread or almost any party fare. Fill a few leaves with anything from fruit to vegetables and it becomes “gourmet.” Endive can really “fancy up” egg salad, tuna or chicken salad for an appetizer. With a little imagination, you can turn leftovers or almost anything in the refrigerator into a tasty appetizer in its own “little boat.”
You don’t want the filling runny. It should have some substance, like semisoft cheese or maybe a binding of mayonnaise, sour cream, yogurt or cream cheese.
Store endive wrapped in damp paper towel inside plastic bag to shield it from light. It will last longer than lettuce in your refrigerator.
Just a portion of the leaf holds the filling so you don’t need much of anything for a filling. The leaves are delicate and you don’t want to break them so handle them gently. To release the leaves, you have to cut slices off the stem end. As you remove slices from the stem, the leaves unwrap and loosen easily. As you remove leaves, you have to keep slicing the stem until you get to the tiny leaves. Those that are too small to stuff can be added to lettuce for salads.
One of my favorite summer appetizers is apple and blue (or Gorgonzola) cheese on endive leaves with walnuts or pecans. I add enough mayonnaise to lightly dress the salad. It’s a jazzed-up version of a Waldorf Salad.
For salads, put three or four leaves on a plate in a spoke pattern and pile the remaining ingredients in the center. Drizzle with vinaigrette and you have a “fancy” salad.
Endive can be cooked by steaming, boiling, braising or grilling. Cooking mellows its bitterness.
Now, for simple filling ideas without any cooking:
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